By Adam Zielonka
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame have acted on the big screen separately, but Keanu, which opened this weekend, marks the comedy duo’s first joint foray into Hollywood. In the film, two cousins, suburban dad Clarence (Key) and lazy stoner Rell (Peele), get mixed up in a Los Angeles gang war while trying to recover Rell’s kitten, Keanu.
Three-minute sketches produced for YouTube are a far cry from a feature-length film – Keanu clocks in at one hour, 40 minutes – and this film is not “one long Key & Peele sketch.” Rather, it’s a decently executed plot strung together between a few sketch-like scenes. Clarence sitting in a car with some of the Blips (they’re badder than the Bloods and the Crips, get it?) and getting the gangsters really into George Michael feels like classic Key & Peele, for example.
But the humor rests almost entirely on two premises: that a bunch of gangsters fighting over an innocent kitten is a wacky juxtaposition, and that these two nerds are just in over their heads by dealing with LA’s toughest criminals. These look better on paper than on the screen because they weren’t really mined for their comedic worth. The theater wasn’t laughing.
And if you think there will be boatloads of cat antics, guess again. Keanu is cute, sure, but you’ll be able to count on one hand the number of times he helps the plot along in a comical way.
That’s not to say there’s nothing redeeming here. The acting is solid all around. The supporting cast includes Will Forte as Rell’s hapless marijuana dealer and Luis Guzman as a drug lord. Anna Ferris steals a major scene as a fictionalized version of herself. But the best of the bunch is Tiffany Haddish as one of the Blips’s top gangsters, Hi-C. After a decade doing C-list movies and one-off television roles, Haddish has hit her stride, earning a regular role on The Carmichael Show and carrying the weightier parts of Keanu.
When you consider this film as a straightforward action film with some comedic moments rather than an “action-comedy film,” then Peter Atencio’s directing checks out. There are plenty of gunfight scenes – more than I was expecting, honestly – and they’re undeniably well-produced, if gory. (The grainy cinematography for Clarence’s drug trip is a great bonus.)
Still, it’s not the acting or directing that does Keanu in, it’s the writing. Peele co-wrote the script with Alex Rubens, who wrote for Key & Peele and currently works on the cartoon Rick & Morty. So I’m confused about why this movie just wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny. Besides that, the last 20 minutes make for a really unsatisfying ending, and the subplot involving Clarence’s wife is weak and lamely resolved.
If you’re in the mood for an action film with recognizable faces and some stray humor, you might get something out of Keanu. If you’re looking for funny material from the comedy team you know and love, you’re better off re-watching “Substitute Teacher” on YouTube.
Keanu is rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity.
Overall Rating: 4/10
(Rates on a scale of 1-5, how much Suspense, Humor, Action, Romance, and Kid-friendly material is in the movie)
1- None to Very Little, 2- Little, 3- Average, 4- Much, 5- Very much
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