Keanu is fun. Silly, stupid, ridiculous fun. It isn’t groundbreaking. It isn’t unconventional. It doesn’t have much to say in the way of society, politics or the human condition. Keanu is just the sketch stylings of comedic duo Key and Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) brought to the big screen. It’s the mashing of action movie clichés with a cute and cuddly kitten, all glued together with the banter fans of Key and Peele have come to expect.
As a first cinematic outing for the duo, Keanu is a decent film filled with both big laughs and deadening silence. For every joke that hits, another joke misses, but that’s the risk Key and Peele have taken. Fortunately for them, the jokes are quick, plentiful and layered. For each witty line of dialogue, there’s something outlandish and overt waiting to club those who didn’t get the previous joke on the head. That said, this is a movie that tries to make us laugh primarily by marrying something cartoonishly innocent to a Hollywood action stereotype — a comedy that wants to run wild with a zany sense of imagination but chooses to stick close to the tropes of the source material. It’s the union between a run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson revenge film and a tale of a lonely man named Rell (Peele) wanting his newly adopted kitten back.
And Rell will do anything to get his kitten, Keanu, back, even if it means dragging his cousin Clarence (Key) into a seedy underworld of drugs, sex and flashy gunplay. Gangsta stereotypes abound as our two suburban heroes don the tough-talking monikers “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank” in order to stealthily infiltrate a criminal outfit known as the 7th Street Blips.
Most of the film fits the bill of a classic fish-out-of-water story as Rell and Clarence try to overcome one criminal activity after another without any of the Blips catching on, but there’s some heart to be found here, too. In one of Keanu’s better scenes, Clarence tries to sell his criminal cohorts on the awe-inspiring bad-assery of George Michael, using Michael as a gateway to lectures on self-empowerment and overcoming life’s struggles. The scene is heartwarming, endearing and hilarious and serves as a much-needed ethos to give Keanu reasoning behind some of the movie’s sillier sequences. It’s also the best possible excuse for making an action movie that relies heavily on George Michael tunes as a soundtrack.
As for Rell and Clarence, their characters are at the center of this film’s heart, with each one having a likable personality and arc. Rell is looking to reclaim that sense of serenity lost when his girlfriend broke up with him, and Clarence is on a mission of self-discovery, searching for the person Clarence’s wife, Hannah (Nia Long), claims is buried deep within him. When moments of deadening silence wash over the audience as Keanu passes through one of its numerous lulls, this heart helps to weather the storm and remind us that at their worst, Key and Peele are unique, beloved comedians we would travel to the end of the world to see. And that says something.
Keanu isn’t the best movie, and it doesn’t strive to be. What Key and Peele have concocted is a fun film that showcases some of their talents within the framework of a three-act structure we’re all familiar with. Their goofiness is reined in by tropes we’ve come to accept as plausible, and some of their loonier material is set up in a way that tells audiences that it’s a calculated risk. At the end of the day, Keanu is a safe, middle-of-the-road comedy that walks the line between delivering more of revered Key and Peele comedy for the fans and offering a portfolio of skills for newcomers. With any luck, the effort pays off, and we’re gifted with more from this dynamite pair.
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long, Will Forte
Directed by: Peter Atencio
Written by: Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens
Running time: 98 minutes