As an ardent fan of Key & Peele, I was naturally excited when I heard that they would be making their first feature length film. I’m a huge admirer of their Comedy Central Sketches because they constantly dole out satirical swipes at different aspects of society and sub-culture, often subverting an element to further underscore the irony and message. But they are not above the nonsensical; Some sketches are simply riotous and evoke mad hysteria. Try translating that to screen however is a whole different story. Keanu tries to balance fluttery furry felines with the rad, bad and mad – The result is a mixed bag of occassional hits and misses. And even at the core of it, the humour is caught between the spectrum of weighty dramatism and absurdist comedy – It’s a little unbalanced in tone and becomes a middling comical piece. Still, I laughed out loud more times than any other movie this year which shows you how the film is still immensely enjoyable regardless.
It’s not easy making a film. And it’s definitely not easy making a good one. Clarence and Rell are cousins who basically go on a search-and-retrieve mission for their recently lost cat Keanu. As expected, things go awry in many different ways that set off a series of umpredictable and tangled moments of humour and chaos. Keanu the cat is extremely adorable and the Keanu team went to great lengths getting different kittens to play Keanu in different situations. There’s a ‘poser’ Keanu and a ‘action’ Keanu and the straight up adorable and cuddly version, but this feline friend becomes an increasingly distracting plot element. Keanu drifts in and out without being much more than a foil of innocence to the depraved madness. It worked well for a while but then you start to question…Really? A whole movie just on this? Yes I would do anything for my pet if I had one but the story just drags on and on, infantilizing the rationale and characterization of certain characters just to fit the ‘everybody wants the cat’ story.
But when it’s funny, I literally laughed out loud. It doesn’t compare to their sketches, but Key & Peele’s enigma and comedic timing help the film fare better. I still think there’s no way the film could have been done with anyone other than the both of them…which can be seen as both unique but rigid. Anyhow, these two were awesome as always. They played off each other perfectly which created the humour needed to ground the film. In a sense the roles were made for them because honestly if someone else tried to play their roles, the movie would have lost its comedic touch. In one scene, one of the gang members almost leaves Clarence (Keegan Michael Key) lost for rebuttal when he remarks that Michael’s “jam” sounds like the boring white-man type of song…to which Clarence suddenly fronts a serious riposte, “Oh, George Michael?… Let me tell you somethin’…HE’s the REAL OG.’
In the end, Keanu seems like a montage of little pieces from different sketches of Key & Peele. Half-serious and half-comical, I feel like the movie is a jack of all trades and a master of none. I had many laughs, that’s for sure. But it didn’t have the same effect as their comedy series. A more focused and satirical swipe would have put their talents to the fullest. But as a first effort, Keanu is a pretty decent movie with big comedic value.