Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Keanu is the first film to star the comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and it’s a winning showcase for their brand of smart absurdity. If you only know Key & Peele through YouTube clips and shared Facebook posts of their late Comedy Central show then prepare yourself; they’ve broken into feature films in a way that should satisfy hardcore fans while also landing new ones. Family man Clarence (Key) drops by to visit his cousin Rell (Peele) after Rell’s breakup only to find that Rell has a new love: a kitten that Rell names Keanu has shown up on his doorstep. (We learn in a prologue that Keanu has escaped a shootout worthy of a ‘90s Michael Bay film.) Keanu brings Rell back to life, and Rell is soon using the kitten as model in a movie homage calendar - stay for the credits. Keanu disappears after thieves hit Rell’s apartment. Rell enlists Clarence - single for the weekend when his wife (Nia Long) and daughter leave town - and the two hunt for Keanu through some unsavory parts of Los Angeles.
Clarence and Rell’s journey brings them into the orbit of drug dealer Cheddar (Method Man) and his moll Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish). The plot requires Clarence and Rell to adopt “street” personas for a sizable portion of the film, and - while Keanu is more broad comedy than satire - the choice does have a point. It doesn’t strain belief to think that Peele (who wrote the script with Alex Rubens) might have an interest in the masks African-American men wear in society, even the ones they assume unconsciously. Clarence and Rell posing as members of Cheddar’s crew provides for some broad belly laughs, but the running joke about Clarence liking the music of George Michael (and the way that Rell and others react to that) is more pointed. In one of the film’s best scenes, Clarence convinces a group of younger men that Michael is black; the gag plays as both hilariously off-kilter and as an odd moment of self-justification. The end of Keanu loses steam a bit as it mocks action movie tropes - there’s even a second drug dealer (Luis Guzman) - but Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have found a new stage for their unique and much-needed talents.