“Keanu” | Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Will Forte, Method Man, Nia Long, Jason Mitchell, Darrell Britt Gibson, Luis Guzmán | Writers: Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens | Director: Peter Atencio
Based on the internet’s love of felines and probably inspired by multiple screenings of Pineapple Express and John Wick through a thick pot haze, Keanu is the long anticipated feature that essentially places an insanely adorable cat as the lead with its most poignant scenes soundtracked by George Michael. Not making this up, folks. This isn’t the first film to draw in the meme-loving, cat video crazed crowd and it certainly won’t be the last. Keanu does have its rocky moments, but for the first studio venture starring Key and Peele, it’s a film that shows a lot of promise in the duo’s burgeoning big screen careers.
Keanu begins with Rell Williams (Jordan Peele), who’s having a difficult time picking up the pieces of his broken heart. His doting cousin Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key) is doing what he can to raise his spirits but nothing’s kicking. Then one random day, a hairy, 12-ounce gift from Heaven lands on Rell’s doorstep and the cousins’ lives are forever changed.
Surprisingly, the action is top notch. Thanks to Peele assuming writing duties with Alex Rubens and director Peter Atencio being a long time collaborator on Key & Peele, the trio seamlessly combine their respective talents to create some highly entertaining shoot outs that either make reference to or pay homage to imitated actioners like Point Break, Bad Boys, and of course, John Wick.
Let’s be honest here: audiences will be filling seats to see the kitten. No doubt the little furball is given a workout as he dodges bullets, blood and explosions during Keanu’s abundant (and surprisingly violent) action sequences. Amid these moments of chaos, Keanu effortlessly soothes any anxiety and rage felt by whomever with a few simple prances around their feet. The kitten is a walking, mewing form of panacea that quiets the storms brewing in everyone, from the heartbroken Rell, to ho-hum, stodgy Clarence and every pusher, gangster and kingpin in between. There were actually seven kittens used in the filming of Keanu, and each did their duty well in radiating cuteness throughout, even during the film’s hysterically savage moments.
Where the film fumbles is when it attempts to simultaneously showcase the profiling that’s prevalent in many productions while using these slights to elicit big laughs. Keanu excels in its subtle jabbing at the Hollywood standards many PoC must endure in order to get any work. However, Keanu falters with its stale retreading of the old ‘culture clash’ motif, which includes a generous helping of base humor. In their search for Keanu – who is obviously more than capable of looking after himself – Rell and Clarence first rely on their pot dealer Hulka (Will Forte) who plays up to the typecasting that typically occurs with Black actors. With a look that’s essentially the shaggy version of James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers, Hulka leads the duo to a club where they could eventually find some answers. Rell and Clarence soon learn in this new world they won’t get any respect without thugging up first.
Although Keanu makes fun of the oft-ridiculed stereotypes that pigeonhole many minority actors’ careers, their subversion of these usual tropes likely won’t be realized by the casual moviegoer. Rather, they’ll believe it’s the same ol’ same ol’ and come away from the film with a smile nonetheless. It’s a difficult proposition to execute, especially within the action-comedy genre. It probably doesn’t help much that Clarence and then Rell begin to accept their newfound thuggishness and drop an exorbitant amount of N-bombs along the way. Given that Key and Peele have such wide appeal and a diverse following, it’s a bit worrisome that many could find their performances in Keanu normalize the roles they’re attempting to deride.
Concurrently, Clarence attempts to educate his new friends on the merits of George Michael’s discography. These scenes, chiefly the ones involving Blip gang members and cousins comparing their life experiences, draw out a few chuckles here and there but they lose steam quick. Thankfully, Rell and Clarence are able to form stronger rapports with each Blip – especially Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) – by learning more about the hidden interests, vulnerabilities and personal quirks of these hardened criminals. Naturally, all of them gush over Keanu whenever he scampers across the screen.
In the end, Keanu is a fun action-comedy but it’s not going to set the world on fire. The plot is all kinds of strange (All this for a kitten? Really?!) and the humor is stretched thin at parts, but their journey to recover the lost love of their lives is as entertaining as it is bizarre.
Keanu = 7.5/10