KEANU – You Gotta be Kitten Me

Keanu, from the comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele seemed like a sure-fire comedy hit. During its five season run, their sketch comedy series Key & Peele was consistently hilarious – often brilliant social satire. The duo share a mixed race heritage. Both have black fathers and white mothers, and they have often leveraged this unique position to discuss things about race that few other comedians could speak to, much less get away with. Having spent a lifetime being seen as “shady” by whites and “domesticated” by blacks, their sketches regularly had them hitting either extreme. They poked fun of the social norms that divided their cultures, while showing how arbitrary it was to adopt them to fit in. In Keanu, they hit these same notes again, but to diminishing returns.

The production is similar enough to many of the duo’s sketches that, despite some fun throwbacks for series fans, newcomers might get more comedy mileage from the experience. The plot involves two cousins infiltrating a gang to reclaim their kitten, Keanu. Naturally, the two have to put on a show as the hardest of hardcore street thugs. Hilarity ensues.

The plot admirably pulls at elements to emotionally invest in outside the central gag, but ultimately it feels like something is missing. It’s nothing new to say that a movie of this sort feels like an overlong sketch, but in its slowest moments Keanu teeters dangerously close to feeling tedious. While the film is an “above average” comedy, it feels like there’s something missing that would truly allow it to meet its potential. More jokes? More plot? Snappier direction? All of the above?

Take the title character himself: the kitten is adorable, but far too often functions more as a cute MacGuffin than a comedy enhancer. Sorry Keanu, but it’s gonna take more spunk to compete with your peers on YouTube. I expect looks AND personality from my kitten crushes! Key and Peele are more than capable as the film’s leads, but the two either needed stronger dramatic arcs, or their supporting cast needed more ways to interact with them humorously.

Key and Peele in Keanu
A perfectly perfunctory action beat.

Director Peter Atencio worked with the two principles on their Comedy Central show, but does little to stand apart from his work on their sketches. Keanu is filmed serviceably, but the editing, audio, and use of camera rarely stand out as reasons that the movie is funny. It would be easy to forgive the film, if not for the multitude of better examples of action-comedy blend. (See Edgar Wright’s entire filmography.)

Keanu is a serviceable addition to Key and Peele’s filmography, and it’s certainly worth a watch. As a huge fan of the duo, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that it doesn’t quite rise to the standards of their next-level sketch work. If the duo re-unite for a feature again, they’d do well to enlist the help of a more ambitious creative support.

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