The very first skit in the pilot episode of Key and Peele showed two black men on cell phones adopting a much more “street” personality when they got within earshot of each other. More than four years later they’ve taken that single 45-second bit and expanded it into the funniest movie of the year so far.
Keanu stars the two comedians as distinctly “un-’hood” black men Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) and Dell (Jordan Peele) who have to adopt tougher personas to infiltrate the Blips (Crips and Bloods rejects) and recover Dell’s new kitten from a hardened gang of drug dealers.
It may sound like a ludicrous premise, but that isn’t what drives Keanu forward– it’s Key and Peele’s proven chemistry, brilliant comedic chops, and an utterly hilarious script.
After a break-up with his longtime girlfriend, Dell answers the door one day to discover cute little Keanu sitting there. Little does Dell know, however, that the kitten was actually the runaway pet of a local kingpin. A few weeks later, a rival drug lord named Cheddar (Method Man) mistakenly ransacks Dell’s house, taking Keanu with him.
Heartbroken, Dell makes it his mission to reunite with the kitten, and he and Clarence set out for the world of strip bars and meth labs to bring the cute little guy home.
Full of the spot-on, socially relevant comedy that made Key and Peele one of the funniest things on television during its five-year run, Keanu is one of the few instances where a moment of sketch comedy wasn’t ruined by an ill-advised decision to take it to the big screen. (I’m looking at you, idiotic MacGruber, A Night at the Roxbury, and Superstar.) Not only does the script, which Peele co-wrote withK&P mainstay Alex Rubens, take the schlubs-acting-tougher-than-they-are premise and run with it, it also has plenty of other fun along the way, too, including (naturally) references to Liam Neeson(s) and “Substitute Teacher”. And there are also a couple of side-splitting cameos, including yes, the titular voice cameo.
Director Peter Atencio (who directed all 54 K&P episodes) makes his feature debut and has an admirable, if not perfect, first outing. By the time the third act rolls around the movie seems to get a little too big for Atencio. The requisite action-movie car chases and shootouts are haphazard, to say the least, but the “quieter” scenes the focus solely on Key and Peele are more than enough to make up for any shortfalls.
Keanu’s best (and most hilarious) running gag revolves around George Michael’s pop-tastic hits “Faith”, “Father Figure”, and “Freedom”. What could have devolved into a silly, tired joke instead stays fresh and clever throughout. And don’t get me started on the Clarence’s explanation for what really happened to Wham!’s Andrew Ridgeley. It’s enough to make even K&P’s No-Laugh Laron emit a guffaw.