Keanu (2016)

Directed by Peter Atencio
Written by Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens

Since my time in college, I have been a pretty big comedy fan. Since then, my level of knowledge and interest has certainly waned, focusing more on a greater array of genre films and sports and any number of other things which fill my now limited free time with a full time job. But spending every Thursday at the local comedy club, taking in whoever happened to be performing there that week certainly opened my eyes and ears to different brands of comedy. As I said, I am no comedy expert, and I must admit upfront in this review to have never seeing an episode of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele. That is not to say I am unfamiliar with them, however. On the contrary, I have enjoyed a number of their skits which have found their way to my computer screen from various friends and sources. I just have never taken the time to explore their television program at length. Perhaps I should, as these two, while not really groundbreaking, are two of the more consistently funny people on television today.

So coming from that background, I really won’t be able to comment on how this film compares to their show. All I know is that it is directed by the same guy, Peter Atencio, who directs their show, is written by Peele and Alex Rubens, both writers on the show, stars Key and Peele (obviously), and is produced by them. So my inkling is that it compares favorably. Peele plays Rell, who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend. While wallowing, Rell finds an adorable kitten at his doorstep which he names Keanu. Soon enough, Rell is back to being happy and positive, until his house is broken into and Keanu is stolen. Suspecting it had to do with his drug dealing neighbor (Will Forte), Rell and his straight laced friend Clarence (Key) confront his neighbors enemy, Cheddar (Method Man) and discover that the charm and pursuit of Keanu runs a little deeper than just Rell’s doorstep, forcing Rell and Clarence to assume new identities as hardened gangsters in order to recover Keanu.

When this film was announced, I was certainly interested in the idea of two funny men making an action comedy inspired by Keanu Reeves’ surprise hit John Wick, in which he plays a retired hit man coming out of retirement after some foolish people kill his dog. Key and Peele do an excellent job here of not just delivering on the premise with plenty of hearty laughs (they do that), but in subverting a genre stereotype. As black men in a gangster movie, you would think these would be tough thugs, as has become standard fare in Hollywood, but Keegan-Michael Key’s uptight and straight laced Clarence is a mode of comedy all its own. As the “straight man” in the comedy duo, he also manages to be the most outlandish, and he somehow manages to strike the balance as well. I assume Peele is more the writer than performer of the duo, since he gets a writing credit here while Key does not, but Peele’s character still has his understated charm, which is good for plenty of funny moments as well.

The film is surprisingly violent, and I would like to say I could expound this review with a sidebar about how Key and Peele have crafted a smart genre subversion which manages to be both funny and make social commentary on not just the condition of black people, but also their stereotypical depicted in Hollywood and perception in general. I don’t think that is Key and Peele’s intention with Keanu, and I certainly did not see any obvious elements suggesting this is anything more than a comedy. It would be easy for me to try and sound smart and poetical, squeezing a socially conscious commentary from this film, but I really don’t think it’s there. What is there is a perfect scenario in which Key and Peele can excel as their tried and true selves, being funny, and making people laugh.

Keanu sticks to its strengths and there’s nothing wrong with that. It certainly creates a ceiling for how great the film can be, but it also set a rather high floor for any fans of the funny duo. This film is a safe bet to make fans laugh and want to come back for more with their Comedy Central show, and possible upcoming film Substitute Teacher, based on one of their more famous sketches (which also makes a cameo appearance in this film on a movie theater marquee. At its roots, Keanu is an action film which taps into the desire, or dream, of common, every day people to be heroes, which has always been a great sub-genre in the action film mold. We ask ourselves, what would we do if put into this difficult and dangerous situation. Would we be the hero? Would we shy away? With Key and Peele, we get to live that dream of being the normal guy who gets to be the hero, even if it’s just for 90 minutes in the theater. But that’s the escape charm of cinema. It helps an awful lot that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are hilarious too.

*** – Good

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