Movie Review: Keanu

(L-r) KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY as Clarence and JORDAN PEELE as Rell in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl

(L-r) KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY as Clarence and JORDAN PEELE as Rell in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo by Steve Dietl

Even if you don’t have an affinity for the feline, Keanu is one cool cat.

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

When Comedy Central’s TV series Key & Peele ended its fifth and final season in 2015, fans mourned. It’s understandable: While film and TV is rife with such brilliant duos as Abbot and Costello, The Blues Brothers, Cheech and Chong, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Laurel and Hardy, Lucy Ball and Desi Arnaz, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, The Smothers Brothers and Stiller & Meara, nothing quite compares to the comic genius of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.

More than the comedians’ great writing and superb timing, Key and Peele have set an impossibly high bar with their onscreen, generous give-and-take relationship, as well as their dazzling ability to morph into wild characters. With an additional nod to the third, longtime Key & Peele writer Alex Rubens, the sketches — political, social, outrageous or just all-out weird — have always offered up some unique slice of the human condition.

Enter the team’s first feature film Keanu, a long-form creation of many of the elements that previously made up the series, i.e, physical disguises, competitive patter and outrageous scenarios. At the forefront, given that both actors are biracial – both born of white mothers and black fathers — they use their unique sensibility to examine the uncomfortable yet often comical divide between the races: the stereotypes, the assumptions, and an examination of the American culture that is schizophrenically at odds with itself, engaged in a “push me-pull you” war that yearns for racial inclusion and exclusion simultaneously.

In Keanu, Jordan Peele plays Rell, a talented yet insecure graphic artist, movie devotee and stoner who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. Heartbroken and deeply depressed, along comes a ray of love in the guise of a baby tabby who appears at his doorstep. Rell names him Keanu (explaining it means “cool breeze in Hawaiian”). And in mere minutes, Rell experiences a life-changing, energized optimism. With Keanu acting as his muse, Rell gets to work creating a playful kitty calendar, staging Keanu in film scenes from The Shining, Point Break, Crimson Tide and, bowing to the kitten’s celebrity namesake, The Matrix.

JORDAN PEELE as Rell Williams in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl

JORDAN PEELE as Rell Williams in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl

At first glance, best friend and cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) appears a bit more self-assured than his despondent counterpart, but he’s struggling with issues as well. Hyper, fast-talking and faux confident, Clarence works as a corporate motivator who specializes in team building. However, underneath Clarence’s attempted cool, he suspects that his marriage is at risk, sensing that his wife (Nia Long) is losing interest. He’s right; she’s getting fed up with his wishy-washy, over-the-top people pleasing traits. Is he a man or a mouser? Bobcat or bob-kitten? Purr-haps even more of a pussy than Keanu?

Speaking of which, the pretty kitty is soon kidnapped by the 17th Street Blips (a mix of Bloods and Crips), and the two suburban, clueless cousins have to man-up, attempting to mix in with the homeboys from the ‘hood in order to get Keanu back. It’s not easy to assimilate, particularly when one of them sounds like “Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy” and the other talks like “John Ritter … all the time!”

(L-r) JORDAN PEELE, KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl

(L-r) JORDAN PEELE, KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY in “KEANU,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl

The action comedy unfolds amid drug lords, shoot-em-ups, motivational lessons in felonious teamwork and a screamingly funny attempt to introduce the song stylings of George Michael to a gang of criminals who’ve been raised on hard rap. It appears that they don’t know what they’ve been missing.

The ensemble is fine, with shout-outs to Tiffany Haddish as the tough, sole female of the gang, Will Forte as a wannabe black dude in dreads, and the gang itself, increasingly funny as they learn some unexpected life lessons from their two new fish-out-of-water friends.

But no surprise, it’s Keanu who steals the show. (And yet, his obvious larceny aside, he’s the only creature who doesn’t face arrest.) He’s actually played by seven rescue tabbies turned actors, all of different ages and talents. Per director Peter Atencio (the sole director behind all 54 episodes of Key & Peele), “I think the old adage should be ‘Don’t work with kids or animals unless it’s cats,’ because a child cat is actually the best actor I’ve ever worked with.”

Coming in at 98 minutes, the movie hums along fairly well. As with many comedies, not everything works, and some scenes could have cut more to the proverbial chase. But that’s small change compared to the considerable cache of funny.

For those moviegoers who already know and love the work of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, Keanu doesn’t disappoint. As for all other viewers who haven’t encountered the duo before, this cinematic experience may be akin to catnip. And you thought cat videos were fun …

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Rating on a scale of 5 Pussy Galores: 4

Release date: April 29, 2016
Directed by: Peter Atencio
Screenplay by: Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens
Cast: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Luis Guzmán, Will Forte, Nia Long
Running Time: 98 minutes
Rating: R

Here’s the trailer for Keanu:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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