Keanu (2016)

  • Time: 98 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Peter Atencio
  • Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Jason Mitchell


Rell’s life is changed forever when a cute kitten comes to his door, and he names it Keanu. Unfortunately, one weekend later, Keanu is abducted by persons unknown. Now Rell and his cousin, Clarence, are men on a mission to find Keanu against the odds. Unfortunately, those odds prove to be perilously high as they find Keanu in the care of the ruthless gangster, Cheddar, and he will only part with him for a price. Now for that cute kitten, these two middle class bumblers find themselves neck deep in a dangerous alien world of drugs and gang violence with only their desperate audacity, creativity and sheer dumb luck giving them a chance to survive.

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  • Cats make everything better. Fact. Just take a look at Keanu, the action comedy that marks the inaugural feature film outing of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the often brilliant and subversive dynamos of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele. This is a movie where it’s all too easy to lose interest in the various boisterous antics were it not for the always welcome presence of the adorable striped kitten that is the film’s title character.

    Keanu begins with typical action movie flourish. The long-haired, leather-clad, grim-faced Allentown brothers (Key and Peele) lay waste to a rival drug lord in the church that houses his operation. The sole survivor is the drug kingpin’s kitten who, in amusing slo-mo, dodges bullets and falling bodies before escaping out onto the streets of Los Angeles and ending up on the doorstep of Rell (Peele), an underachieving stoner recently dumped by his girlfriend. The irresistible furball, newly christened Keanu, enlivens Rell who, in the film’s best visual gag, gets to work photographing Keanu in a series of classic movie scenes (The Shining, New Jack City and Mad Max: Fury Road amongst them) for his very own personal cat calendar.

    Things take a very wrong turn two weeks later when Keanu is kidnapped by Cheddar (Method Man), the leader of the 7th Street Blips, a gang comprised of outcasts from the Bloods and Crips. Rell and his married Clarence (Key) spend their boys only weekend posing as gangsters Tectonic and Shark Tank and infiltrating Cheddar’s world in order to retrieve Rell’s beloved Keanu.

    The film’s basic joke is the transformation of two middle class men into passably hardcore gangsters. Key and Peele have mined this territory numerous times on their show, where the ruthlessly limited sketch time resulted in ideas and jokes that were piercing and precise. The film’s expanded running time overstretches the premise and dulls it of some of its power. It also doesn’t help that the film invites comparison to John Wick, which it gently spoofs and which starred kitten Keanu’s namesake, Keanu Reeves, as a former hitman bent on exacting revenge on those who killed his cherished dog. John Wick crafted an exciting actioner off the back of its seemingly ludicrous foundation whereas Keanu struggles to marry action and comedy and ends up doing justice to neither.

    This is not to say that Keanu doesn’t have any funny moments. In fact, it has quite a handful from the duo tweaking one another on how white their normal speaking voices are (“You sound like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy,” Rell tells Clarence who then replies, “You sound like John Ritter all the time.”) to their hysterically mounting panic when confronted with the Allentown brothers to Clarence convincing Cheddar’s gun-toting minions to appreciate George Michael (“This dude’s real OG. He was tryin’ to do that solo thing and, WHAM, nobody ever seen Ridgeley again.”).

    The comic pair are as winning as ever, their built-in chemistry often carrying the film even in its weaker moments. Director and original collaborator Peter Atencio doesn’t do anything particularly remarkable in his staging of the film’s action sequences (the final shootout and car chase are both saved by his feline star). Atencio, however, does expectedly better in comically surreal sequences such as the one where Clarence finds himself part of George Michael’s iconic “Faith” music video.

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