Keanu

Posted by Joel Copling on May 3, 2016


Two comedians walk into a thriller, and "Keanu" is the conflicted and conflicting result of screenwriters Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens's attempt to work in both genres. As a comedy, the film is sometimes quite amusing, taking on the extended-gag feel of a sketch comedy; this is not really a surprise, considering Peele is the co-creator and co-star of a television program (unwatched by me, although this might change in the future) shared by his primary co-star here. As a thriller, it's the usual stuff involving gang turf wars complicated by two, relatively straitlaced guys caught in between because of the adorable kitten that has changed the life of one of them. As a combination of the two, the film is as disjointed as that superficial rundown might suggest.

The two guys are Rell (Peele, who is quite good here) and Clarence (Keegan Michael-Key, said regular collaborator of the co-screenwriter), cousins in Los Angeles who are both dealing with, in Clarence's case, the probability of his wife Hannah's (Nia Long) infidelity and, in Rell's, a recent break-up that has reverted him to his old ways of smoking marijuana from a bong. That all changes when the aforementioned kitten enters their lives. It's an adorable creature, so miniature in size and cuddly in personality that it even charms the pants off a pair of assassin brothers (also played by Key and Peele). Anyway, the cat is abducted by Cheddar (Method Man), an innocuously named psychopath who wants the two to rip off a popular comedienne (who plays herself but whose identity should be as surprising to the viewer as the scene is darkly comic) and believe the two in-over-their-heads suburbanites are that pair of assassins.

There are scenes here that wish to poke fun in a clever way at the stereotyping of black culture, culminating in a very funny exchange between Rell and Clarence regarding the advisability of using the stylization of a certain racial epithet that then gets twisted upon itself when it is the film's go-to word for the pair to remain credible (and the two adopt voices to match the inflection of deep-urban gang members, too). It is in these sequences when Key and Peele's considerable chemistry pay off, rather than in the inclusion of the white drug dealer Hulka (Will Forte), who exists to appropriate black culture because that's apparently funny, or in an innocuous romantic connection between Rell and Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), the tough-looking lieutenant in Cheddar's gang (The other members are played by Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell, and Jamar Malachi Neighbors, all of whom might as well be the same person).

Otherwise, the goal of "Keanu" is unclear. The kitten brings a smile and tugs the inevitable heartstrings of finding a kitten cute, but the film forgets about it for an entire hour and spends the last half of one putting it into improbably dangerous circumstances (in the path of bullets that rarely hit their targets, for instance) from which it escapes. The sociopolitical gags become murkier as they go, such as when Clarence becomes a father figure to the goons by way of the George Michael song or when violence is treated as a punch line (which is every time the film erupts in it). Director Peter Atencio is a surprisingly capable filmmaker, but the whole of the project is too confused--its narrative too simultaneously labored and thin--to be more than a lightly amusing curio.

Film Information


Jordan Peele (Rell Williams), Keegan-Michael Key (Clarence Goobril), Tiffany Haddish (Hi-C), Method Man (Cheddar), Darrell Britt-Gibson (Trunk), Jason Mitchell (Bud), Jamar Malachi Neighbors (Stitches), Will Forte (Hulka), Luis Guzman (Bacon), Nia Long (Hannah), Rob Huebel (Spencer).

Directed by Peter Atencio and written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens.

Rated R (violence, language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity).

98 minutes.

Released on April 29, 2016.