When it comes to making crazy romp-style comedy work, comedic cohesion and chemistry is a major factor. The reason Superbad works so well is the connection between Michael Cera and Jonah Hill and the same can be said about Seth Rogen and James Franco in Pineapple Express. Without these great connecting relationships between the actors that go beyond what you see on the screen, these films just wouldn’t work. This is more than true for duo Keenan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, two comedians who have been working together for almost fifteen years.
Back in 2003, on the long-running sketch comedy series MadTV, Fox decided to employ both as the new cast members for their ninth season and really the rest was history. After the series ended, they teamed up for their own Comedy Central series Key and Peele, which ran for five seasons with most of the sketches on the show going YouTube viral. In 2015, they decided to end the show and do something a little bit different and decidedly much bigger, as the two comedic geniuses would make the big leap to the big screen and I know all their fans were chomping at the bit to see what they had produced.
Keanu is a film of utter craziness. The movie follows cousins Rell (Peele), who has freshly been dumped by his girlfriend, and Clarence (Key), a married do-gooder with a love for George Michael. Inconsolable, Rell hears a scratching at the door and what’s outside is a change to his life, an adorable kitten he names Keanu. Little does he know that Keanu has a past, as he ran from his previous owner, a drug dealer who was gunned down with the rest of his gang by the local hood boogeymen, The Allenstown Boys. Rell quickly bonds with Keanu and he is able to move past his bad break up.
Two weeks later, Clarence’s wife is going out of town on a questionable trip, leaving him some time to go out and have some fun with his cousin. When they get back to Rell’s place afterwards they find the house broken into, ransacked and Keanu has been stolen. After questioning his weed-dealing neighbor, Hulka (Will Forte), the two are informed that a gang called The Blips may be behind the kitten’s abduction. The two cousins then have to don a new gangster persona and try to get Rell’s kitten and source of happiness back from the clutches of crime.
Having never seen a Key and Peele episode before I wasn’t preconditioned to like Keanu but I was completely charmed by this movie. The two stars play so brilliantly off each other as this fish out of water story really depends on them feeding off each other to keep their false street credibility alive and, in turn themselves too. The bumbling awkwardness of Rell and Clarence renaming themselves “Techtonic” and “Shark Tank” in a panicked, quick decision is hilarious, as is the next scene where they have to prove who they are to the head of the Blips, Cheddar (Method Man). The escalation of this story is what won this one for me.
It great to see Key and Peele hit a good stride going from sketch comedy to making a full feature on a kind of stretched premise but if it wasn’t for the personalities that they brought to their characters you would have seen the flimsiness to the story. Clarence’s major issue is his inability to rise up and be his own person, something that is presented by his wife (Nia Long) in the beginning, which manifests as him really digging on his new persona and making friendships within the murderous Blips. Rell, for the first time, has something he would go any lengths for, even if it puts him in danger. Keanu is the complete source of his happiness and he will save him or die trying…. or crying.
Keanu is a great showcasing of Keenan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as writers and performers, which will also make fans of people who are completely unfamiliar with either actors. Keanu is a completely original story and the two don’t rely on calling out old sketches and the fan favorites to get laughs. I think this is also a great look at Jordan Peele who doesn’t get the same sort of exposure as his counterpart. Peele is the emotional center of this film and plays some scenes with a ‘verklempt’ emotionality that is both endearing and really funny. He’s probably the stand out for me, you know, other than Keanu himself because, well, kitty.
With a comically-violent “New Jack City” style core to it and so many laughs in it that you may not hear the next joke, Keanu is one of the funnier low brow comedies this year and will definitely make your night and leave you chuckling and maybe quoting some of the great dialogue. I think this was a great feature debut from two of the funniest people in the business and I hope it leads to much more. I give Keanu a four out of five.