Keanu is a solid feature debut from the Key & Peele duo, who live in the absurdity of their premise and are not afraid to turn into it.
Keanu is a cat, named after the most famous Keanu, by a lonely and just broken up with artist, Rell, who never reached his potential. The cat stumbled on Rell’s doorstep after it escaped a massive drug operation when it was wiped out by a pair of homicidal killers, the Allentown Boys, but they too have interest in finding Keanu. Because he is just so adorable, which is true. None of this matters because Keanu is kidnapped by another gang, the Blips, when they accidentally ransack Rell’s place instead of his neighbor’s drug den. This sets everything in motion for Rell and his best friend, Clarence, who turn their boys weekend into a weekend under the guise of the aforementioned Allentown Boys as they try to get Keanu back from his most current captives.
That is a long and convoluted set up for a film, but director Peter Atencio gets it done briskly while using the premise to set up just how absurd Keanu is willing to go. The absurdity of the film isn’t necessarily over the top, you should just be ready for just about anything to happen. I think Keanu’s script has some interesting things to observe/say about the black experience, but it is a comedy through and through and isn’t afraid to play with some of those same stereotypes it’s commenting on. The film has a fantastic grasp of its tone and it every beat that it hits feels entirely earned. The film still doesn’t feel quite as funny as it intends to be, but while every joke isn’t a home run there are very few that don’t at least elicit a chuckle. There are more than enough big laughs sprinkled throughout, but it still doesn’t feel like a top-tier comedy, just a really solid one.
I really did appreciate a number of the film’s callbacks, and they were all set up so perfectly, as I think the film’s script is probably Keanu’s strongest asset. Atencio also shoots the hell out of the movie, which looks really great for a small budget comedy. The action beats are all coherent, there is some great slow motion photography and they made that cat as about as adorable as possible. You also have to appreciate the film never shying away from rolling with where the conceit takes these guys. If you are a nitpick you might find yourself saying, “These guys would never do this,” over and over again in the movie, but the fact that they do is one of the charms of the movie. Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens script knows these guys are acting out of character, but there wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t. The creative team is asking you to come into the theater, sit back and enjoy the ride, it will be hard to not be entertained if you meet them at their level.
The cast of Keanu is also game from top to bottom, even if Peele and Keegan-Michael Key might feel familiar to what we have seen on their show. Key is playing the “black guy who acts white”, always listening to George Michael, and is a bit insecure with being himself, but when forced to turn on his “street” side for the Blips he is a loud and overtop caricature stereotype. The bigness of the part works because it fits perfectly with the tone of the film and Key knows every inch of this type of role and how to make the laughs work. To credit his range, Key’s best moment is a low-key one in a van with a couple of Blips, George Michael is involved again, and the film wonderfully calls back to it in the big finale. Peele is the low-key counterpoint to Key’s high energy, again a familiar dynamic, but these guys know these lanes and nail them every step of the way. Peele is at his best when he breaks the facade, or is starting to show his cracks, and he does an excellent job of selling us on the absurd lengths he is willing to go for the love of Keanu. Tiffany Haddish is also quite the scene stealer as Hi-C, a member of the Blips, as she gets to walk a fine line as a potential love interest for Peele’s character. Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell and Jamar Neighbors are also all very good as the three main faces of the Blips, while Method Man and Luis Guzman are a delight whenever they pop up on screen. Also, Will Forte is distributed in just the right amount as a wannabe drug dealer who gets caught in the middle of all of this.
All in all, Keanu is a really good comedy. All I am writing is positive, after positive, and I don’t really know why the film didn’t resonate as something truly great with me. Maybe things could have been a bit tighter, maybe the comedy feels a bit too tied together and small, but I would never use these as an excuse to try to dissuade you from seeing the film. Key & Peele fans will find this to be a no brainer, but I think any fans of comedy, especially someone looking for a bit of a throwback will find a lot to like in Keanu. I can’t wait to see what these guys do next in feature form, this is a great launching off point for almost everyone involved on the creative side of things.