By Cate Marquis, Staff Writer
Everyone loves kittens on YouTube, right? Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, aka the comedy duo Key and Peele, hit the pop culture target when they made an adorable kitten the focus of their big screen debut. Comedy/action movie “Keanu” focuses on a catnapped kitten named Keanu who is so cute that even hardened drug lords covet him.
Key and Peele have a deserved reputation for brilliantly biting satire and inspired cultural commentary that often explodes racial stereotypes, adopting a variety of characters in five-minute sketches on their recently-ended Comedy Central show. Unfortunately, although there are some hilarious comedy moments in the film, the comedy is intermittent and the duo fail to transition their comedy to a longer format, making it a disappointing debut.
“Keanu” starts out with promise, with pop culture jokes and movie references. The film opens like a typical crime film, as a pair of long-haired, black trench coat-wearing, back-flipping gunmen (Key and Peele) lay bloody waste to an illegal drug factory and the drug lord overseeing it. Amid the flying bullets, the drug lord’s little gray tabby kitten takes flight, transforming the scene into comic gold as the kitten dashes through the mayhem in slow-motion,scampering down crowded streets. The kitten finally ends up on the doorstep of Rell (Jordan Peele), a stoner artist depressed after being dumped by his girlfriend. Rell quickly bonds with the kitty and names him Keanu.
When Rell’s house is burglarized, the robbers catnap the kitten. Rell enlists the help of his friend, nerdy suburbanite Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), to get his kitty back. Interrogating Rell’s drug-dealer neighbor Hulka (a dread-locked Will Forte) sends the friends to a strip club owned by gang leader Cheddar (Method Man). But Cheddar has been charmed by the irresistible kitten too, and Rell and Clarence decide to pose as gangsters named Tectonic and Shark Tank to get Keanu back.
“Keanu” bogs down after about 20 minutes, falling into cliches to tie the comic bits together. The film work well through establishing underachiever Rell and his ultra-suburbanite pal Clarence, a mild, straight-laced corporate trainer and family man with a wife and daughter, drawing on familiar Key and Peele archetypes. However, once the pair decide to pass themselves off as tough guys the humor sags and falls into repetition.
Sadly, the only thing consistently funny in “Keanu” is the cat, who is the center of silent humorous bits that capitalize on its cuteness. There are still good comic moments when Key and Peele do their signature bits subverting racial stereotypes, but once the two try to impersonate tough guys, the comedy seems to get stuck in a skit that runs too long and exhausts its potential. There are still occasional funny bits but they are separated by overextended dark action movie scenes.
Co-written by Peele and “Key and Peele” writer Alex Rubens and directed by another “Key and Peele” collaborator, Peter Atencio, “Keanu” is a disappointing film debut. Hopefully, the talented duo will make another film but one better thought out for the longer format—where they don’t get upstaged by a cat.