“Keanu is one thing even most average comedies aren’t, which is consistently entertaining”
Bringing a beloved cartoon, duo, or sketch show to the big screen is always a tricky bet because you want to give fans a reason to go the extra mile to witness the new content whilst making an attempt to stay true to the brand you’ve crafted. South Park did it by creating the most vulgar and unapologetically crude animated film of all time, The Simpsons Movie did it by sprinkling in moments of raunch and crude humor with a plot they couldn’t neatly sum up in half an hour, and even The Lonely Island found success with their debut film Hot Rod and are now going on to release another big film this summer.
Never seeing the popular sketch show by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele (aptly titled Key & Peele), I can’t say if their cinematic debut Keanu brings anything particularly new, daring, or innovative to their formula. I can, however, confirm that it is a marginally successful comedy, combining the amiable talents of both men and the lunacy of the action-comedy genre to make one big, expensive, dangerous, and kind of forgettable, cat video.
The film revolves around best friends Clarence and his cousin Rell (Key and Peele, respectively), who wind up hanging out more when Rell’s girlfriend dumps him and he subsequently discovers a small kitten he names Keanu. The opening scene of the film shows two assassins who infiltrate a drug cartel and wind up executing the gang’s leader, with the cat escaping during all the madness. Unbeknownst to the boys, the cat they’ve discovered has serious involvement with bad people, and once Rell’s apartment gets broken into and Keanu is stolen, they must join forces with the 17th St. Blips in order to get him back.
The goofs wind up impersonating “the Allentown boys,” the same assassins who broke into the cartel, before the Blips and go undercover by being their stupid selves in order to try and obtain Keanu. The two get involved with Blip leader Cheddar (Method Man) and his confidant Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) before going out on the streets in order to do the group’s dirty-work.
Keanu technically belongs to the genre of comedy I’ve long-billed as “maximum antics, minimum laughter,” but not as brazenly as Dirty Grandpa, Zoolander No. 2, or some of the other downright awful comedies I’ve endured this year. Keanu‘s biggest problem is a common one, however – for every joke that connects there’s an accompanying two or three that land with a thud. This is because writers Peele and Alex Rubens rely heavily on jokes that touch on the ever-so familiar topics of the n-word, “sounding black,” and penises, much of which results in the same kind of humor audiences can get elsewhere and perhaps even wind up more satisfied with.
The funniest stuff in Keanu is simply when Key and Peele are forced to work off one another, and that doesn’t happen nearly enough here, unless you’re patient enough for the third act. We have to see long-stretches of the film where the two don’t even interact or are bogged down by other characters. Nevertheless, Keanu is one thing even most average comedies aren’t, which is consistently entertaining. Never attempting to be “meta” comedy in any sense, nor going on for about twenty minutes too long, the film is nicely paced and has the right amount of action and comedy to make up for any kind of shortcomings in the humor department that might’ve been more haphazardly handled in other hands.
The one who actually gets shortchanged much of the time here is indeed the titular character, who, for a good portion of the second act, is nowhere to be found, nor do we even check up on him in any manner. Anyone expecting Keanu to be a constant presence in a film that bears his namesake may indeed be in for a letdown; he’s more like that cat or dog at a party that sneaks downstairs to check for scraps before wandering off to God-knows-where, sure to turn up again in about thirty or forty minutes.