Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Comedy Central’s Key and Peele fame make their debut as stars of their own feature film in Keanu. Keanu is not just the name of the film, it’s also the name of the third star of the movie, the cutest damn kitten in the City of Angels. Keanu shows up on Rell’s (Peele) doorstep shortly after he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, and the two form an instant connection. When Rell and his best friend Clarence (Key) come home after seeing a movie together to find Rell’s apartment torn apart and Keanu missing, our story begins as the two best friends set off to find why Keanu was taken, where he was taken, and by whom.
Keanu on first glance seems to be a story of not judging based on stereotypes. Our heroes are a pair of self-professed suburban black nerds, and they fit the stereotype in many ways, except when they don’t. Most of the other characters in the film are criminals of one sort or another, whether it’s just the friendly neighborhood marijuana dealer who is as badass as a stuffed unicorn or the truly scary, honest to badness gangsters you do not want to be even seen by, let alone interact with if you know what’s good for you. They also fit their stereotypes, except when they don’t. The majority of the humor in the film comes from this undermining of expectations, and while it’s not new or original in any way, it is handled very deftly. Deftly enough to make you start to care for most of the characters in the film, even most of the criminals, without your even realizing it until you find yourself more than just laughing at their antics, but also laughing because you really empathize with these people and you truly enjoy their familiarity.
While themes of ignoring stereotypes, protecting those closest to you, and the power of cuteness are prevalent throughout the movie, they aren’t handled particularly subtly nor creatively. That’s okay, because the main purpose of this film is simply to make you laugh. It uses those themes only as a means of making you laugh. In fact, those themes probably only exist because they are the best way to draw jokes out of the material, and laugh you will, hard and often. Some jokes are cheap and obvious, others sneak up on you, but the majority of the humor is quality, both in the writing and in the delivery.
As to Key and Peele themselves, they don’t show themselves to be particularly nuanced actors, but they are absolutely funny and charismatic enough to headline their own feature film. Their writing and chemistry translate incredibly well from the small screen to the large, and I definitely look forward to what they may do next now that they have proven themselves to Hollywood.
Keanu is not a perfect movie, not even a perfect comedy, but it is still a lot more than the extended sketch comedy drawn out too long that far too many television comedians create when they transcend to the big screen. To compare this to the many Saturday Night Live films made over the years, Keanu is much closer to The Blues Brothers than it is to It’s Pat! Not only that, but it’s also the best damn kitten video you’re likely to see for a long time, as well.
Rating: 6.2 out of 10