By Matt Fleming. Let’s get this out of the way: if you’ve ever watched an episode of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele and thought, “nah, not for me,” then that sentiment will definitely extend to the film Keanu. However, even for audience members who get a huge laugh out of twenty-five minutes of their particular brand of schtick will probably leave theaters feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, this is the first time since their hit sketch show debuted that the duo has been given this much free reign, and it shows in every frame. It also makes sense, since aforementioned TV series is no more, that the duo would want to go out with a pretty big bang. Keanu as an end result is both fitting and disappointing.
Despite what many may believe, Keanu wasn’t born from watching John Wick under the cover of thick clouds of weed smoke, but rather it seems it just came from a long-time love of over-the-top action flicks (though, probably weed, too). The men who made “Liam Neesoms” a household joke among fans have completely inserted themselves (and their brand of stereotype-challenging humor) into an absurd shoot ‘em up that feels like a funnier Adventures In Babysitting. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play roles they know well, the suburban black men who lean against type; Key’s Clarence leads team-building workshops while Peele’s Rell prefers sparking up and recreating classic movie scenes with his kitten. What follows is a typical fish-out-of-water tale about guys who get in over their head with some gangsters thanks to a missing kitty and mistaken identities. The tropes are all there, and fully intended. That’s not where this movie fails.
Keanu is hilarious in bursts, but the cracks become apparent when the comedians take their inside humor past the point of effectiveness. Even fans of their series have seen this happen on plenty of occasions; sometimes… jokes just miss. Here, we’re treated to the longest episode of Key & Peele by far, and for all the belly laughs there come plenty of groans. For instance, a scene featuring a celebrity cameo that’s intended for chuckles but instead it elicits heavy cringes. The film’s biggest flaw is the comedians’ own: they miss about 25% of their intended yuks.
However, when they hit, they smash it out of the park (I might not be able to remove the phrase “That’s the word, Big Bird” from my vocabulary for at least a month.) The aplomb with which Key and Peele deliver their comedy manifesto is brilliant, if excessive at times. (One sequence, which recreates George Michael’s “Faith” video is especially rewarding.) The supporting cast is generally great (Method Man’s return to the screen is quite welcome), even if you have to sit through Will Forte’s ill-advised white-thug drug dealer (a role perfected by Danny McBride). Rob Huebel shows up just to get shamed, Nia Long is still as much as vision as she was in Boyz N The Hood, and the gallery of gangsters do their best to sing along to “Father Figure.”
Keanu is above all a movie made by some guys who love movies. The meta elements here are terrific, and when it sticks to its ridiculous premise, the movie certainly entertains. There’s a pesky romantic subplot that feels too earnest to belong here, and actress Tiffany Haddish certainly appears like a hastily-applied understudy in her role as “female lead,” but that doesn’t matter too much. At its core, Keanu is a showcase for the talents of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, two funnymen whose chemistry is nigh-extraterrestrial. It’s hard to have a bad time when there’s a cute forever-kitten pouncing his way into your heart for nearly two hours. Keanu reminds filmgoers that, like in the ‘80s, sometimes it’s okay to make a really funny movie that is just… fine.
Directed by Peter Atencio.
Produced by Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Peter Principato, Paul Young and Joel Zadak.
Written by Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens.
Starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long and Will Forte.
5 out of 10