Keanu sees the big screen debut of comedy duo; Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Key and Peele are well heralded in the sketch comedy world it’s no surprise they try to channel their strengths into a premise that hinges on them rolling in and out of stereotypes in unapologetic fashion. This unfortunately renders this film quite uneven as comic set pieces are given priority over something more along the lines of heart and story.
Keanu, directed by Peter Atencio, introduces us to Rell (Peele) and his cousin Clarence (Key) and on the point of typecasts, they embody characters we’ve seen a thousand times over. Rell is that guy coming of a bad break up. I want to say he is trying to get over it but he spends his days loafing about or doing weed or both. Rell is also film buff and this translates into some pretty amusing quirks later on. On the Clarence side of the fence, things are exactly what you would expect from a guy called Clarence; uptight, minivan user and a George Michaels aficionado.
Our leads’ lives are zapped when the cute little feline, Keanu, finds its way to Rell’s door step. Keanu (before he was named Rell), by the way, is given a far more exciting introduction. Our kitten is seen to be a Mexican drug dealer’s companion for all but a few minutes. The deadly Allentown boys roll up to this dealer’s warehouse and we get to watch these two assassins, quasi rip offs of the Boondock Saints, rip through the Latino gang like they walked right out of The Matrix. The score as this scene plays out jokily glorious as Keanu prances across the warehouse in slow motion as bullets, blood and cocaine fly all over the place.
Indeed when Keanu ends up on Rell’s doorstep, there is a significant amount of coke in his fur, not that Rell noticed anyway. Rell is just given such a lift by the uber cute Keanu and for a while, Rell has a reason to live again. Creative juices start flowing as Keanu becomes his model for a film themed calendar shoot comprising popular shots from iconic films like The Shining, New Jack City and more. It really is all fun and games till it isn’t. It turns out the world of crime has too much of an affinity for Keanu, in more ways than one actually. The film conspires to land Keanu in the hands of another drug dealer, Method Man’s Cheddar.
Now I know the film is trying to sell us on Rell’s obsession with Keanu, an obsession well noted by Clarence but come now. No kitten is cute enough to compel the average cat lover to go into drug dealer’s den and eventually adopt the identities of two of the baddest assassin (as we are led to believe) in the crime game. But that is what this conceit has our two protagonists do in name of getting Keanu back. Well, in Clarence’s case, he is also trying to let his hair down a little. This period coincides with him being urged by his wife, Hannah (Nia Long), to pretty much pump some excitement into his seemingly boring life.
At this point the film starts to recycle the same gags over and over again. There are the mini sketches that see Key and Peele go in and out of gansta and ebonics mode as they try to fit in the crime world. I gather the film is also probably trying to peel out layers giving some commentary on race and manliness, especially for Clarence who is a bit of a Carlton so to speak. He is the one with the most discomfort going into the ruse but he then realizes he is finally beginning to loosen up and gets a little too comfortable. He even takes the opportunity to bond with some of Cheddar’s inner circle over some George Michael records – not as funny a scene as it thinks it is though.
As the film unravels, the central conceit becomes more and more ridiculous and the masquerade becomes more pointless as we begin to lose touch with who Rell and Clarence actually are or to some extent, are reminded of how little character building has taken place. The series of mini sketches become a little tedious what little of their lives and personality is pushed further into the background for an ultimately underwhelming final act that involves an appearance by Luiz Guzman, the cartel, drab gun fights and more gangsters ogling over Keanu. Key and Peele’s chemistry and comic prowess do well to provide some hilarious moments as we journey to some sort of resolution but they never justify the premise.
I reckon I was expecting more from Keanu and I was left somewhat disappointed. It was ultimately too skittish with no real edge to it. This film could have and should have aspired for much more than an exercise in fidgeting in stereotypes, which is mildly amusing but as low hanging fruit as it gets. Attempts at examining masculinity are commendable but it has nothing poignant to say to audiences about that theme. Bringing it up is near moot to be honest since it isn’t earned. I should also point out it does horribly on the Bechtel spectrum of things with only two under utilized female characters but we are in that space where it is more surprising to have female characters with agency in the average film.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana