PLOT: When Rell’s (Jordan Peele) beloved cat Keanu is stolen, he and his cousin/best friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) track the kitty to a dangerous street gang, whose boss, Cheddar (Method Man) mistakes them for a team of invincible contract killers.
REVIEW: KEANU marks the long-awaited feature debut of comedy duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, aka Key & Peele. Exploiting their obvious love of action cinema (posters for NEW JACK CITY, EDGE OF TOMORROW and THE MATRIX adorn Rell’s wall) and their own signature blend of humor, KEANU winds-up being a very solid screen vehicle for the duo that feels tailor-made to allow them to cross-over to a wide audience that may not be familiar with their cult sketch show (with their TV director, Peter Atencio at the helm).
It helps that the titular character, an adorable kitty, just so happens to be the most memorable big screen feline in quite sometime, doing for this cute critter what THE ARTIST did for Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier. Sure enough, any time this kitty perked up its ears or meowed, the packed preview audience erupted in a chorus of “aw’s” and the trailer, featuring Keanu wearing a gangsta do-rag, was surely a genius marketing move. Who wouldn’t want to see more of this cutie?
Of course, Keanu the cat can only carry the movie so far, but luckily Key & Peele’s chemistry and comic chops, mixed with savvy (and surprisingly violent) genre elements makes this a strong first run at big-screen stardom from the pair. Much mileage is gotten out of the fact that the two milquetoast black men are forced to pose as gansgta tough guys in order to recover their cat, and their over-the-top “street” posing is a funny poke at the way black actors are still too often pigeonholed in Hollywood, something these two can probably relate to.
The fact that the two are such sweet, lovable guys makes the movie hugely palatable, with Peele’s weed-smoking slacker and Key’s harried family man ideal heroes. For the most part the movie avoids recycling too many of their bits from TV, with only the occasional joke, such as the nod to their Liam Neeson fandom, with the two starting off their boys weekend with the newest “Liam Neesons” thriller.
Once they enter thug territory, some pretty huge laughs are mined by having the two guys posing as invincible contract killers (with the real deal also played by the heavily made-up pair) and trying to blend in with Method Man’s hardcore crew, as they sell their new drug, “Holy Sh*t”, which they call a mix of PCP, Molly and DMT - and of course winds-up being inadvertently sampled by one of the guys.
As much as Key & Peele obviously love a certain MATRIX star by naming their main character after him and patterning the premise somewhat on JOHN WICK, another pop-icon also gets first-class treatment from the two, with Key’s character being a massive George Michael fan. Cue him turning-on his new thug buddies to the symbolism of “Father Figure” and telling them a hardcore theory about Andew Ridgely’s post-WHAM! fate. Heck, most of the action scenes (of which there are surprisingly a lot) are scored by Michael’s biggest hits.
If KEANU has a failing it’s that at it maybe feels a little stretched-out despite the relatively short ninety-eight minute run-time. Maybe a few quick nips and tucks might have jacked-up the pace a bit in the slightly flabby mid-section. Still, that’s a minor thing and for the most part, KEANU is a pretty damn hilarious R-rated comedy. If you like George Michael, gunfights and cats, this movie is for you!
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