Have you been looking for a movie that combines kittens, gangsters, shootouts, George Michael, and laughs? Me neither. Then I saw the first trailer for Keanu and realized that this is a movie that has been missing from my life. Making a film that combines my love of adorable kittens with fun action and capping it all off with a healthy dose of comedy, I knew this was a film I just had to see.
The comedy duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been on my radar for a long time. I first noticed them on MADtv, the sketch comedy show that attempted to rival Saturday Night Live. For me personally, I always enjoyed MADtv. They had some amazing talent including Phil LaMarr, Will Sasso, Frank Caliendo, Mo Collins, Michael McDonald, and Ike Barinholtz, amongst many, many others. Key and Peele joined the cast after I stopped watching regularly, though I remember seeing them in a few skits together and thinking they had great chemistry. Quite a few of the cast members went on to appear in various guest or starring roles in sitcoms or films, though few really found any great success, and in all honesty, I lost track of Key and Peele.
That is until I came across their substitute teacher sketch online, which if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should watch it HERE. This led me to discover that this duo from the defunct MADtv had gone on to start their own sketch comedy show on Comedy Central simply titled Key & Peele. They gained popularity as they pumped out one hilarious sketch after another, from the Gremlins 2 brainstorming session to Luther, President Obama’s anger translator. This duo was on fire, until their show ended after five seasons as they looked to branch out to other projects. One of these projects is their debut film together- Keanu.
The plot of Keanu follows close friends Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele) as the latter is recovering from a devastating breakup. Rell is soon distracted from his misery by the sudden appearance of an adorable kitten, which he immediately takes in and names Keanu. Sadly, disaster strikes as Rell’s apartment is trashed by some gangsters that mistook it for his drug dealing neighbor’s place and now Keanu is missing. This leads these two tame, suburban, average guys on a crazy journey outside of their comfort zone to retrieve Keanu by infiltrating the local gang after unwittingly impersonating two notorious killers (who are also played by Key and Peele with some makeup and wigs).
Even though this is labeled as an action-comedy, it is definitely heavier on the comedy than the action. We really have two major shootouts that don’t last very long, a couple other small bursts of violence, and a chase scene. None of the action was overly impressive or extraordinary. The shootouts that bookend the film are fun enough, and fairly violent, but not over-the-top enough to be comical, and not heavy enough to be great action. This pair clearly has a love of action films, with references to both Liam Neeson action movies and The Matrix, among others, so I am a little surprised the action wasn’t more prominent or sustained. However, this isn’t a movie you go to for the action, you go for the comedy and, in that regard, it more than succeeds.
While it’s certainly not the funniest movie, I laughed pretty consistently throughout, from the beginning where Rell compares himself to a dead Apollo Creed all the way to the end credits that featured pictures of Keanu recreating iconic scenes from films such as Reservoir Dogs and The Shining. And even though this is undeniably an R-rated movie, it does not dip into overly vulgar or shock humor as some R-rated comedies tend to do (I’m looking at you Hangover sequels). Most of the laughs come from Rell and Clarence as they attempt to keep the charade going amongst actual tough gangsters, such as Clarence defending his love of George Michael and Rell trying to one up a “worst thing I’ve done” story. The jokes don’t always work, but they definitely hit a hell of a lot more than they miss.
The remaining cast members do well in their roles, though not all of them are comedic in nature. Method Man’s gang leader Cheddar plays it fairly straight, aside from his obsession with Keanu, but in this movie (and in the audience) seemingly everyone loves the adorable Keanu. Everyone. Tiffany Haddish shines as gangster Hi-C, though like the others, she is given very little comedic material to work with, serving mainly as a foil for the pretend tough guys Clarence and Rell. Nia Long, who plays Clarence’s wife, is absent for much of the movie. The couple has a tiny and predictable side-story that felt a bit tacked on, though it does serve to exhibit Clarence’s character development. Luis Guzman and Will Forte also show up, though they aren’t given much to do and feel underutilized. But that’s ok, because this movie is all about Key and Peele, and they showed us all just how capable they are at leading a feature film. They played the comedic bits brilliantly, and the serious scenes well. They are easily the main reason to watch this movie…well, them and the amazingly cute cat.
As one side note regarding the cast, there was a great cameo by an actress playing herself, but I felt it was fumbled. This is very mildly a spoiler, but I am trying to be as vague as possible to not give anything away. I had no idea this actress was playing herself until a few minutes into her scene, and then that made everything funnier. Much like the entire movie, this scene played out in an over-the-top crazy fashion, however they also fumbled that by later retconning the events. Now this wasn’t some lame Spider-man 3 “Sandman actually killed Uncle Ben” type of retcon, but it still changed what happened in a way that for me basically ruined the events that transpired during this cameo.
This movie is unrealistic, ridiculous, a little weird, and sometimes violent. It doesn’t break the mold, and yet it is solidly satisfying in what it is. Keanu is a well-made, thoroughly enjoyable comedy with a dash of action and an overload of cuteness. There were some missed opportunities and stumbles along the way, but overall this is easily the best comedy I’ve seen this year. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele prove their comedic prowess is just as sharp on the big screen as it is on the small screen, and hopefully this means we will see more films from this powerhouse comedic duo.
Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.