by Jeff Walls
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have already had a success on the small screen with their sketch comedy show, but now that their television show has ended they have set their sights on the big screen. Their first effort is a pseudo-parody of the Keanu Reeves action movie John Wick that they named after that film’s star. Although the title Keanu is obviously a nod to the actor, in the movie it is the name of the film’s true star: pretty much the cutest kitten you have ever seen in your life.
Keanu, the cat, opens the film as the pet of a drug dealer who is taken out by a couple of deadly hitmen. He winds up on the doorstep of Rell Williams, a recently broken-hearted slacker played by Jordan Peele. Rell is immediately infatuated with the adorable kitten and names him after one of his favorite actors. After an evening out with his cousin Clarence, played by Keegan-Michael Key, he returns home to find his house broken into and Keanu missing. He learns from his drug-dealing neighbor that the culprits are most likely the gang known as The Blips.
At the strip club that operates as the base for the gang, Rell and Clarence do their best to present themselves as heavies in order to meet the gang boss named Cheddar. Once they meet him, they find that he has adopted Keanu for himself and renamed him New Jack City. He’d be willing to hand over the cat, but only after Rell and Clarence—who now call themselves Tectonic and Shark Tank, respectively—join in on a drug deal. They quickly find themselves in increasingly more dangerous situations with their lives constantly threatened, all for the love of one tiny kitten.
The cat in this movie is adorable and the movie is at its best when he is on the screen, but the problem is that the cat is rarely on the screen. After escaping bullets in slow-motion in the opening scene and then cuddling his way into Rell’s life, the cat practically disappears for the rest of the movie. There is a great scene later in the movie where Keanu helps Rell and Clarence escape capture and the movie could have used a lot more of this kind of comedy. He’s also mostly left out of the film’s climax.
Instead, much of the movie is filled with sequences that appear to be mostly improvised which director Peter Atencio and his editors let go on far too long. There is one scene at the house of a famous actress which seems to fill the entire second act even though the jokes in the sequence get stale very quickly.
Key and Peele’s sketch comedy background is very apparent as the movie feels more like a collection of sketches than it does a well-structured movie. That combined with the improv-style comedy leaves us with a movie that has about twenty minutes of plot and character stretched out over its nearly one hundred minute runtime. There are only about five or six good laughs spread throughout that runtime, which is far too few, especially with a creative plot or compelling characters to fill the void.
There are some good ideas in Keanu, but ultimately it is a one-joke movie that doesn’t really come together. Perhaps the problem is that that one-joke is the wrong joke. Really guys, give that cat some screentime.
Keanu opens today at the Century Federal Way and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!