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05 May 2016

Meow! Key and Peele Make Unoriginal Scenarios Humorous Enough in Kitty-Kidnap Comedy 'Keanu'

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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu.

After ending their TV show after five seasons, Key and Peele have come to the big screen with Keanu, a lively kidnapped-cat comedy with a high body count.

Part John Wick and part Adventures in Babysitting, the film gives us Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Clarence and Rell, a couple of wimpy guys trying to get a beloved kitten back from some hard-core gangsters. In order to do so, they masquerade as Shark Tank and Tectonic, two badasses from Allentown who will end your life if you don’t give them their cat back.

The whole mess starts when the cat escapes from a drug den after two killers (also played by Key and Peele) murder his owner. The cat winds up at the doorstep of newly dumped Rell, who gloms on to him as his feline savior. The cat is then kidnapped and winds up back in the hands of gangsters, requiring Rell and Clarence to swing into action.

The title character is, of course, the cat, who has to be the cutest kitten anybody has ever put in a movie. Clad in a doo-rag and jewelry, the multiple cats recruited for the part make this film an absolute necessity for cat-lovers, even if you hate Key and Peele. The felines steal every scene they are in.

The movie isn’t the most original piece of work: Fish-out-of-water scenarios are a dime a dozen, and much of the humor (Clarence’s obsession with George Michael, Rell’s trouble with women) is based on stuff we’ve seen before.

That said, Key and Peele have a knack for taking familiar scenarios and playing them out to nutty, funny extremes. For example: One of Clarence’s gangsta associates, after a long George Michael-listening session, gets a “George Michael is OG” tattoo on his torso. It’s funnier than it sounds.

One of the great things about their comedy is a seemingly innocent slant—followed by large doses of nastiness. Not to give too much away, but the film has a rather shocking amount of violence, and it’s quite surprising giving how innocuous it seems at times. This is by no means a complaint; the film’s best moments are its most shocking ones.

Method Man contributes nicely as Cheddar, the criminal who has Keanu and is relatively unwilling to give him up without significant, murderous favors in return. Jason Mitchell, following up his fine work in Straight Outta Compton, gets big laughs as Bud, one of Cheddar’s henchmen. Tiffany Haddish scores points as Hi-C, perhaps the most badass person in the movie. Her violent tendencies really come to life during a cameo by a famous comedic actress.

Will Forte shows up as Rell’s next-door neighbor and pot dealer. Again, the film is treading well-worn territory here, with Forte’s character playing a white guy trying to be black. Credit Forte with making some old shtick pretty funny in this movie.

Key and Peele have been kicking around in supporting film roles over the past decade or so, but this is the first time they’ve really been able to take the spotlight on the big screen. While Keanu is not a rousing success, they definitely show promise as a big screen duo.

In John Wick, Keanu Reeves infiltrated the Russian mob after somebody messed with his dog. In Keanu, Key and Peele infiltrate a drug ring to save a cat. The short lesson here is that you don’t mess with a man’s pet.

As good as Key and Peele are in this film, the real stars are Keanu and the cats that played him. Also, huge props to the cat-wrangler and whoever else managed to pull the performances out of these particular kitties. You’ll really believe a kitten can evade rapid gunfire after Keanu.

Keanu is playing at theaters across the valley.

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