SXSW Film 2016 Review: KEANU

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

What started out as a spoof of John Wick has gone on to become something a little different, but either way, the comedy duo Key and Peele have scored themselves a winner with their first feature film.  On Saturday, March 12 at midnight, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele introduced their movie to what seemed like a full house of enthusiastic festival attendees at the Paramount Theater.  They mentioned that their film Keanu was still a work-in-progress, but were nevertheless excited to premiere the cut they had so far.  After watching the film, I honestly would not change very much of the film.  Even though I was a bit tired from my second day of the festival, the movie kept me wide awake and well entertained.  Key and Peele have made a damn fine transition to cinema and I hope this is the start of something big.

Key and Peele star as Clarence Goobril and Rell Williams, two best friends who lead very different lives.  The happily married Clarence is an uptight and very straight-laced father who is eager to please and rarely cuts loose.  Rell, on the other hand is a single slacker/stoner suffering from depression after an ugly break-up with his girlfriend.  After an adorable kitten survives a violent shoot-out in a drug processing warehouse,  he aimlessly wanders and somehow ends up on Rell’s doorstep.  Rell instantly falls in love with the kitty and begins to rise from his depressed state.  This moment of happiness is short-lived, however.  After a break-in at Rell’s home, the newly dubbed Keanu disappears, leaving Rell distraught and desperate for its recovery.  Clarence and Rell manage to trace Keanu to a heavy-hitting gang leader named Cheddar (Method Man).  The buddies decide to pose as some infamous gang bangers known as the Allentown Brothers to negotiate for Keanu, but the terms of this deal are much worse than they had anticipated.

Written by Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens and directed by Peter Atencio, Keanu delivers the riotous entertainment one would expect from Key and Peele.  The movie starts off a bit slowly, but once it is firing on all cylinders, it is an absolute blast.  With humor directed at gangsta tropes, action movie cliches, and hilarious pop culture references, I had such a great time with this movie.  The filmmakers manage to juggle some occasionally raunchy subversive humor and the ridiculous adorableness of the title kitten.  Seriously, though, that kitty is so absurdly cute that even people who dislike cats will fall in love with Keanu.  They could have easily titled the movie Everybody Loves Keanu.

The movie’s leads are nearly as lovable as the cat.  Key and Peele bring their charming nerdy personalities to their characters and beautifully react to the crazy situations that they face.  People familiar with the duo through their TV show or from their work on Mad TV already know that these talented comics have superb timing and the chameleonic gifts to pull off just about any character.  So their fans obviously do not need me to sell them on their abilities.  Those unfamiliar with Key and Peele should take my word for it. These guys are the real deal.  The movie also has excellent work by Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell, and Jamall Malachi-Neighbors.  The movie has a fun performance by Will Forte and a couple of wonderful surprise cameos.

I enjoyed the movie so much at the festival, that I took the time to see the theatrical cut of the movie.  I didn’t see too many changes.  I had originally thought that one of the cameos wasn’t in the work-in-progress cut, but that was because the end credits were not finished at the time.  I’m sure the filmmakers streamlined and fixed a few things here and there, though.  Still, the fact that I enjoyed an unfinished version as much as the finished product should be a testament to how great this movie is.  I know this type of humor won’t appeal to everyone, but if R-rated farcical comedy is one’s cup of tea, I must highly recommend Keanu.  I want this film to be a huge success because I would love to see Key and Peele on the big screen again.

Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele introduce Keanu at the Paramount.
Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele introduce Keanu at the Paramount.

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