“Keanu” doesn’t live up to Key & Peele’s comic genius

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Keegan Michael- Key and Jordan Peele join a gang to rescue their kitten in “Keanu.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

It’s only natural that comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who recently concluded their acclaimed “Key & Peele” series, have made the leap to motion pictures with “Keanu.” After all, their antics are enjoyable in small doses, so why not give them more time to make us laugh? 

Yet, while Key and Peele’s comic genius was consistently evident in the wit of their show’s many sketches, their work in “Keanu” is often lackluster. At 98 minutes, “Keanu” occasionally feels brisk, but it’s often draggy. The result is disappointingly uneven — hardly worthy of the duo’s lofty talents. 

Peele plays Rell, who has adopted a stray kitten and named him Keanu. When intimidating gang members steal Keanu from his home, Rell and Key’s character, Clarence, set out to rescue him. When they confront the gang’s leader, Cheddar (Method Man), he mistakes them for two drug-dealing assassins called the Allentown brothers (also played by Key and Peele). Because of the Allentown brothers’ vicious reputation, Cheddar offers to give back Keanu to Rell and Clarence if they help him run his drug operation.

The ensuing stretch of film is a series of fish-out-of-water sketches as Rell and Clarence struggle to conceal their identities from the other gang members. There are some genuinely good moments of satire, such as when Clarence bonds with the gangsters by trying to become their father figure. He also has an adorable obsession with singer George Michael, and convinces the gang that he’s definitely black and “O.G.” 

While Rell and Clarence try to keep up the charade, they cross paths with the Allentown brothers, who are also after Keanu. This lends a suitable lunacy to the proceedings, a lunacy made most apparent when the insane murderers dressed entirely in black fawn over a tiny kitten. 

A few celebrity cameos also are worthy of note. Anna Faris plays a deranged, drug-crazed caricature of herself, Will Forte shows up as a spaced-out drug dealer and, yes, Keanu Reeves voices the titular cat in Clarence’s dream sequence.  

For all its parts that succeed, “Keanu” serves up just as many segments that outstay their welcome. Several scenes rely on jokes that poke fun at Rell and Clarence’s suburban appearances and sensibilities, which they attempt to hide by adopting stereotypical gangster dialect and yelling excessively. It’s amusing the first time; it gets old when the film starts using that motif as a crutch. Similarly, the romance between Rell and a female gangster, Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), is reduced to two scenes before their big kiss, so the moment they lock lips rings false. 

Perhaps “Keanu” recycles many of its jokes because the premise is so thin. There’s only so much you can do with a story about a cat getting kidnapped by gangsters without struggling to fill up a feature-length film. At times, it feels like “Keanu” would have been better off cut down to a 40 to 50-minute TV production. As it is now, the picture doesn’t sustain enough comic energy to warrant its running time.

Key and Peele are skilled performers who have tangible chemistry. They’re magnetic presences that, with better material, shine brightly. As of now, though, the cat’s the only thing that viewers will leave thinking about, because boy, is it cute. 

“Keanu”

  • Running Time: 98 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Score: 2/5 stars