KEANU (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language throughout, Drug Use and Sexuality/Nudity

Keanu poster

Directed by: Peter Atencio

Written by: Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens

Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Nia Long & Will Forte

After five hysterical seasons of KEY & PEELE, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have finally taken their leap onto the silver screen. Though the comedic duo have starred individually in side roles, this is their first front-and-center big budget feature. KEANU is simple, entertaining, and has noticeable problems. This basically plays out like a 100 minute KEY & PEELE skit, which isn’t a hugely negative statement when you consider that KEY & PEELE is funnier than 99% of modern sketch comedy. The screenplay has a few dull moments (including some plot holes) and the running time is about 15 minutes too long, but KEANU is an enjoyable romp that should please KEY & PEELE fans and animal lovers alike.

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In the aftermath of a nasty break-up, Rell (Jordan Peele) has become hopelessly depressed. This all changes when an adorable kitten shows up on his doorstep. With furry Keanu as a constant companion, Rell now has a new lease on life. He and his cousin, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), go for a night out to see the newest Liam Neeson movie. They return to find Rell’s house ransacked and cuddly Keanu is nowhere to be found. In order to save the kidnapped kitten, Rell and Clarence pretend to be a pair of hardened drug dealers and infiltrate a local gang. As you might imagine, chaos ensues, bullets fly and bodies pile up…all for the sake of the cutest cat you’ve ever seen.

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KEANU isn’t exactly a revelatory comedy that introduces a ton of fresh jokes and avoids clichés. It actually revels in every familiar step of the action movie formula and seems to simultaneously mocking well-worn plot points as it goes along. The characters of Rell and Clarence are pretty much interchangeable with any of Key & Peele’s other protagonists. They’re simply good guys thrown into a ridiculous scenario which leads to lots of misunderstandings and tense situations being played for dark laughs. As with many KEY & PEELE sketches, KEANU gets more over-the-top and filled with violence as it goes along. This script definitely has the recognizable blend of dark humor and silliness that kept Key & Peele’s comedy show afloat for five seasons. Nods to previous skits are scattered around the background and dialogue, so I imagine that diehard KEY & PEELE fans will likely get a kick out of those Easter eggs too.

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Only two big faces stick out of the supporting cast, while the lesser-known actors (playing the gangsters) make do with what they’ve got. Will Forte has an enjoyably silly role as Rell’s pot-dealing neighbor and got some big laughs out of me, especially in his introduction. Forte’s dreadlocked drug dealer serves as an exposition-spewing plot device, but manages to make his scenes memorable. Method Man takes on the role of domineering antagonist as gang boss Cheddar. This rapper turned occasional actor plays his villain as seriously as possible, which makes Key and Peele’s antics even funnier to watch in comparison.

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KEANU is entertaining, but not without flaws. The opening third is the movie’s peak of hilarity, while the remainder has noticeable ups and downs in momentum. The middle section, particularly a drug deal sequence (featuring a nicely placed cameo) and an elongated George Michael joke, could have used tighter editing. There are laughs in these moments, but I feel the humor would have definitely benefitted from a shorter running time. There are a couple of jokes that fell flat as well, including a music video inspired drug trip, and other opportunities for bigger laughs are passed up. The latter is especially evident during one final scene that seemed to be opening the door for a hilarious punchline, but instead opened up a few distracting plot holes with a well-trodden conventional approach.

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All things considered, KEANU will entertain KEY & PEELE fans and animal lovers. The film occasionally suffers from pacing issues and a few jokes that fall flat, but can still be enjoyed as a fun little comedy. If you are not a fan of KEY & PEELE, this probably won’t do much for you. Viewers who want to watch Key & Peele play around on the big-screen with a budget, smile at lots of close-ups of the cutest kitten you’ve ever seen, enjoy over-the-top bloody shootouts, and chuckle at arguments about whether or not George Michael is an O.G., are bound to find something to like here.

Grade: B

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