This week’s release KEANU is highly anticipated by the cult of Key and Peele, the stars and creators of the film. Is this movie about a gangster kitten and the humans that save it the cat’s meow?
Full disclosure: I am a huge Key and Peele fan. So I asked myself, is it even possible for a mashup of kitten videos and Key and Peele sketch comedy to fail? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate. This must have been what Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele discussed with Key and Peele co-writer Alex Rubens and director Peter Atencio during a story meeting. The result is intermittently hilarious, and thanks to a scene-stealing, meowing, ball of fur, nearly every scene has an awwww-or should we say, paw factor that goes to 11.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play Clarence and Rell cousins and besties who spend a crazy weekend searching for the beloved kitten that dragged Rell out of a deep post-break up depression. In this and other ways the plot pays sly homage to John Wick and other various films which star the kitten’s namesake Keanu Reeves. The pair find themselves posing as dangerous gangsters from out-of-town, inadvertently getting involved with drugs and murder. It’s funnier than it sounds. Imagine slo-mo shots of Keanu weaving his way through a drug-meet gone bad, bullets flying as he trots and meows, tail held high.
The secondary characters are best when they act as straight-men, mostly playing as foils for the grown-Urkle nerdiness of Key’s Clarence, as he feigns the language and swagger of a hardened criminal while rationalizing his minivan and love of George Michael. Method Man and Luiz Guzman are great as cold killers who happen to have a soft spot for kittens, and Tiffany Haddish and Nia Long offer strong female characters that are interesting and well developed. So much so, their interest onscreen rivals the stars, and even Keanu, which is no small feat. Note that Haddish wound up adopting one of the 7 cats used to play the title tabby.
What might limit the film from becoming a mega-hit is the same issue that sometimes troubles Key and Peele’s tv show. If KEANU had a more merciless editor, the jokes and scenes would fly by, and no one would notice the fairly one-dimensional plot. Fifteen minutes could have been shaved off of the 98 minute running time to tighten up the timing. Still, as with the show that made this comedy team famous, the moments that work in KEANU are worth those that drag. Clearly, they cleverly ascribed to the philosophy of “there’s a lull! Quick! Throw a kitten at it!”
Look for Keanu Reeves, who does have a cameo of sorts in KEANU. How that actually gets written into the script is nearly worth the ticket price, and is featured in one of the best, albeit most bizarre sequences of the film.
Loose editing and a limited storyline hasn’t kept a long list of other comedies from finding success at the box office. As a clever, kooky comedy with the expected touch of satire usually served up by its stars, Keanu is repeatedly watchable for the fans of Key and Peele, as well as fans of kittens everywhere.