Keanu is a movie written and performed by two sketch comedy experts, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who don’t quite know how to stretch a funny idea over a full movie. They play cousins Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele), the former a browbeaten yuppie with a wife and kid in the suburbs and the latter a recently dumped stoner. When they find their lost kitten Keanu at a strip club, they are mistaken for two mysterious gangsters who just performed an instantly legendary massacre of everyone at a Latin drug kitchen. They can have the cat back if they tag along and train a local gang of drug dealers led by a dude named Cheddar (Method Man). Choosing to just go with it, they make up their thug names (Shark Tank and Tectonic) on the spot, and adopt overly affected gangsta personas. They have their separate reasons for going through it, but it’s never actually about the cat, even though they always say it is.
In other word, they are dragged into a remarkably sitcom scenario where you expect someone to eventually blurt out, “So, just to be clear, when you say [insert the surface level thing they’ve been focusing on] you really mean [insert the emotional drama they’ve been transparently working through the entire time.]” In fact, an actual sitcom, New Girl, recently featured that same basic conversation after a character had been obsessing over his cat Ferguson instead of directly dealing with his depression over an unrequited love.
OMG, so cute! His eyes look like little buttons!
Okay. Fine. I’ll grant you this: That cat is ridiculously adorable, to the point that when I came home from the movie and was greeted at the door by my dog my first thought was, “Why aren’t you a kitten? You’d be so much cuter if you were.” Of course, I don’t actually want a cat. If I did, I’d already have one, but Keanu momentarily broke my will. At the very least, it reminded me why cat videos are so popular everywhere you turn on the internet.
A cute cat does not a funny movie make, though.
Okay. I’ll also grant you this: the completely unexpected running joke about Clarence’s deep appreciation for the music of George Michael kept getting funnier. It could have so easily fallen apart, as the basic idea of a bi-racial man unabashedly loving such “white” music seems like something you go to for laughs a time or two, not repeatedly throughout an entire movie. However, Clarence, as Shark Tank, sitting in a van with a couple of young gang members and explaining why the first thing that came on his iPod was “Freedom” by George Michael is one of the film’s best scenes. It ultimately plays on stereotypes in such a fun and interesting way.
As the Huffington Post argued, Rell and Clarence “adopting a performative version of stereotypical, hyper-masculine blackness” actually turns Keanu into a “rather subversive comedy about race from the same guys who gave us Obama’s anger translator.” So, it’s not an unfunny movie nor does it completely lack depth. It’s just…
Hold that thought because I have another “Yeah, but….”:
Actually, that whole scene with that one famous person playing [his or her self] was totally their “Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar” moment, and while not quite as amusing as a drugged up Doogie Howser seeing visions of unicorns this particularly celebrity did earn some honest laughs. It’s but one moment where Keanu reveals the debt it owes to prior stoner comedies, although its tone is closer to Pineapple Express than Dude, Where’s My Car? or Harold & Kumar. The plot also occasionally recalls Seven Psychopaths, at least in the way it uses a coveted pet as the McGuffin and finds plenty of humor in the idea that bad guys are not immune to the charms of a cute pet.
Naturally, the situation continually escalates, and the twists are overly plentiful in the film’s final third. However, Key & Peele’s well-honed chemistry and knack for skewering racial stereotypes carries the comedy and action, and you eventually realize the truth in what Peele told HuffPost, “This movie is a commentary on pop culture and how stereotypes and genre tropes have fed us.” Plus, you know, it makes you laugh, if not all the time then at least part of the time.
So, hold on, what did I have against this movie? Not much, as it turns out. Can I please just see a picture of that cat again?
The plot is lifted out of a sitcom, the jokes don’t always land and the twists get a little out of a control at the end. However, if you’ve ever seen one of the many Key & Peele sketches in which they mock pop culture’s stereotype of African-American gangstas, and wouldn’t mind seeing that stretched across an entire film just as long as there is a cute cat around then Keanu is well worth the price of admission.
75% – “Keanu‘s absurd premise and compulsively watchable starring duo add up to an agreeably fast-paced comedy that hits more than enough targets to make up for the misses.”