In “Keanu,” Key & Peele Are Mostly Goody for a Few Laughs

Keanu Collage
The many portraits of Keanu the cat – my favorite poster campaign of the year, so far …

Keanu (Peter Atencio, 2016)

Who doesn’t love the sketch-comedy duo Key & Peele (that’s Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), hosts of a now-retired Comedy Central show of the same name? Witty, funny, brilliant – both together and alone – these guys know how to mine the sublime and the ridiculous for a great laugh. They are, however, veterans of … sketch comedy, which immediately begs the question of how their humor will translate to a 90-minute-plus movie. The answer is quite well, thank you, but not without problems. As a work of sustained narrative fiction, the story is weak; as a collection of mostly hilarious short bits, it’s terrific fun, mixed bag though it may be.

Key and Peele play cousins Clarence and Rell, respectively, quiet types who enjoy a middle-class existence until one extremely cute little kitty comes into it. In an opening sequence that spoofs every action-movie cliché in the book, that cat escapes from a drug-den massacre, but not before charming the assassins, who then embark on a quest to find him again. The intrepid critter, after a mad dash across Los Angeles, shows up at the home of Rell, who has just broken up with his girlfriend and taken depressive refuge in his bong. It’s love at first sight, and Rell quickly names the cat Keanu – for no reason, except that it’s funny and allows for a throwaway joke about Keanu Reeves, later – and decides to get on with his life. But then, the drug world of the first scene crashes into this peaceful idyll, and our blerd heroes spend the rest of the movie finding their inner gangstas in order to save little Keanu.

If many of the scenes go on for too long, many of them zip along quite well. There’s a running gag about Clarence’s love of George Michael that I couldn’t get enough of, and Will Forte (Nebraska) as Rell’s pot dealer – a white guy talking “black” while our black protagonists talk “white” – is a hoot. Anna Faris (Scary Movie) shows up in a sharp cameo as herself that is wonderful until it isn’t, and so the movie goes, back and forth fun mixed with groans (but mostly fun). The cat is cute, and the supporting cast, including Tiffany Haddish (The Carmichael Show), rapper Method Man (Red Tails) and Luis Guzmán (Two Men in Town) do a fine job backing up the stars. For a dumb comedy, it offers a lot of smart jokes and a fair amount of laughs. It may (slightly) overstay its welcome, but until then it offers a pleasant enough diversion.

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