Key and Peele hit the big screen with hilarious results in ‘Keanu’
If you didn’t already know, I’m a biracial nerd who jams out to George Michael and would probably do anything to rescue my cat, so I don’t think there’s ever been a movie more perfectly tailored to me than Keanu, the new comedy starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of the brilliant Comedy Central series Key & Peele.
In the film, Peele is Rell, a slacker dude who smokes weed and is depressed after recently breaking up with his girlfriend. Through a series of odd coincidences involving a drug-related shootout at a church and two shadowy assassins (also played by Key and Peele), Rell discovers an adorable kitten at his doorstep and immediately takes him in, naming him Keanu. The kitten gives Rell a new lease on life and something to love after his heartbreak.
Meanwhile, Rell’s cousin and BFF Clarence (Key) is a straight-laced family man who enjoys the music of George Michael and drives a minivan. He’s planning to enjoy a family-free weekend after his wife (Nia Long) and family decided to take a little vacation with her friend Spencer (Rob Huebel) who might or might not be interested in her. But Clarence’s world is picture perfect, so he isn’t too concerned and decides on a guy’s weekend with Rell. He’s also amazed by how cute Keanu is—and it’s true, this is one of the most adorable cats in film history—and he’s happy to see his friend being responsible and dedicated to something.
Little do both guys know, Keanu is a wanted kitten. The drug lord who owned him was gunned down in an attack from the Allentown Boys, and now the Blips—a gang so bad they’re made of members kicked out of the Bloods and the Crips—mistake Rell’s house for his dealer Hulka (Will Forte) and break in, stealing his adorable kitten. This sets Rell and Clarence on a quest to find little Keanu, which takes them to a strip club called Hot Party Vixens, or HPV for short, and right to Cheddar (Method Man), the leader of the Blips. Cheddar mistakes them for the Allentown Boys and agrees to give them the cat if they help him with distribution of a new drug called Holy Shit. Ever the dedicated cat parent, Rell agrees, dragging Clarence along with him as the two get deeper and deeper into this violent crime ring, teaming up with Cheddar’s toughest crew, lead by Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) and including some hilariously named gangsters (Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, and Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell). The guys assume the identities of “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank” in an effort to fit in, and so begins a night of violence, drug-deals-gone-bad, and even a couple backflips.
Whenever stars of TV sketch comedy transition to the big screen, the question on everyone’s mind is: will this just feel like a sketch stretched out to 90 minutes? Thankfully with Keanu, the answer is no. Instead, there’s a central plot that moves forward with each scene, and neither Key nor Peele is playing a character made famous from their TV show. Yes, there are some lulls and a few jokes that don’t always land, but the impeccable chemistry between the two makes their dialogue exchanges absolutely hilarious. It reminded me a lot of Pineapple Express, and not just because the plots of both are very similar. Like Pineapple, the dynamic between the two leads is what keeps it from becoming trite or silly.
And, being a biracial nerd, I love that Key and Peele can bring us a portrayal of black nerdiness that feels real and never strays into Steve Urkel or Carlton territory. They’re both biracial dudes who are not considered thuggish, but have to try to pretend to be in order to succeed in their task. We see a lot of movies where people have to pretend to be hard for comedic effect, but usually it’s a white person who has to get “ghetto” to fit in with a group of stereotypical “gangstas”. What makes this so much better and smarter is that subtle commentary on what it’s like to be black and nerdy in America. As someone who’s been told that I don’t “sound black” my entire life, I completely related to this. It’s one of the strongest aspects of Key and Peele’s comedy and one of the things I loved about their show. These guys know what it’s like to live in that gray area between white and black, and best of all, they know how to make it hilarious.
In other words, if you loved Key & Peele, you’ll enjoy it. If you didn’t get the jokes in Key & Peele, you probably won’t understand why Keanu is so funny.