Keanu (2016)

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“That was considerate as f***.

Keanu is the freshman foray into film for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the creators behind one of TV’s all-time best sketch comedy series. Peele is one of the writers here, and we notice early on that they’re coasting with training wheels. This is safe storytelling from two twisted, inventive imaginations. I mean, have you seen their extremely dark take on the Make-A-Wish Foundation? The two push the envelope, especially when it comes to culture, race, and what we’re allowed to laugh at/with. So even though there are some very big and surprising moments, Key and Peele roll down the alley with bumpers on both sides, guaranteed to score without aiming. Keanu knows that there ain’t no mountain high enough for these performers, yet consistently pits them against the valleys of the low-brow.

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We’ve seen this movie before. Rel (Jordan Peele) lays around his apartment getting high after being dumped. His uptight cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) sees his wife and daughter off for a weekend with family friends, unsuspecting of foul play when Spencer’s (Rob Heubel) spouse can’t make the trip due to food poisoning. In real life and in film, we know that excuse has little viability unless you went to a Chinese buffet the evening prior. For Clarence, the days ahead are for him to do him, which means go to a movie and yard work. For Rel, his sole purpose becomes nurturing the stray cat that comes to his door, naming it Keanu and fussing over its every move. The turn comes when Keanu goes missing, leading these two maladjusted men into the city’s backroom drug circuit to retrieve the kitten.

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The plot is obscure and unbelievable. But this is comedy, so if we laugh we go right along with it. Keanu just doesn’t feel like a film though. I’m still struggling to pin down why. Peter Atencio doesn’t do anything remarkable in terms of direction for a script that basically rehashes 2014’s Let’s Be Cops, as well as poking fun at the very genre it falls into. A shot of doves gives a nod to action frontiersman John Woo. There’s plenty of slapstick slo-mo and salacious dialogue. The main cause for concern is that Key and Peele aren’t very entertaining or funny when they’re playing these men. There are flashes of interest, mostly when the they both go for broke and greatly exaggerate. Rel threatens gunfire over a cat. The straightlaced Clarence finds acceptance from a gang of misfits by imitating a cold-blooded killer. Key and Peele are at their best when they play to hyperbole. In Keanu, they don’t get to do that enough.

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With that said, Keanu does manage to get some big laughs, however inconsistent they may be. Even when it’s in the duo’s wheelhouse, the film settles for what’s easy. I lost track of all the jokes surrounding Clarence’s affinity for George Michael music. One comes right after the other, infiltrating scene after scene. Sure, most of the time they’re quite funny. But that’s a comedy crutch that doesn’t explore or expand the characters. Maybe I’m missing things and this is supposed to be making fun of the modern comedy. Still, if you saw their show, it’s hard not to be disappointed. On the program, there were a handful of sketches intermixed with some forgettable and forced crowd work. Too much of Keanu falls into the latter category.

“Ya’ll talk too damn much.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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