SXSW Film 2016 Review: KEANU

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B

Comedic pair Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele take their unique form of comedy off cable TV and land on the big screen in an amusing story of a pair of cousins and one fateful weekend. Having ended their comedy series on Comedy Central, this dynamic duo makes their debut in Keanu, a buddy film about to middle-class men and an adorable kitten – the title character. Even those unfamiliar with the antics of Key and Peele will find something to enjoy about this over-the-top gangsta comedy.

Family man Clarence Goodbril (Key) and his single cousin Rell Williams embark on an adventures when Rell finds a kitten, who hours before escaped a bloody drug-war massacre. “Phantom” drug dealers (also played by Key and Peele) from Allentown raid a meth lab and kill everyone involved, except for the kitten that one of the sinister thugs takes a shine to. The creatures ventures out across Los Angeles, winding up on the doorstep of Rell. Recovering from a freshly broken heart, Rell falls instantly for Keanu’s cuteness, but when his house is inadvertently ransacked two weeks later and Keanu is taken, Rell enlists Clarence to help him recover the cat. Clarence, whose wife encourages him to have a fun-filled weekend in her and their kids’ absence, is at first reluctant, but soon he is playing gangster right along with Rell. Keanu’s ominous roots take the pair deep into drug deals, mayhem, and even murder.

Admittedly, Keanu might not appeal to everyone, but Key and Peele offer a comedic freshness to their characters. Rell and Clarence are two normal Joes and part of the hilarity lies in how they blend in in spite of their conspicuous bumbling, manner and dress. Rell looks more like a slob than a thug, and Clarence could not look more middle-class if he tried (sporting khaki trousers, plaid button-down and a preppy windbreaker) and even before they run out of funny ways to screw-up the slang-laden verbiage, Clarence and Rell are embroiled in drug dealing and homicide. They shoot from the cuff  to get in character – basing their behavior and words on movie hoodlums and this, coupled with outstanding physical comedy and Key and Peele’s hilarious facial expressions, garners loads of laughs. The kitten is adorable, so much so it is actually easy to believe that someone might fall instantly in love and everyone he encounters does– taking in to consideration, too, that it never ages. The comedy is clever and the story an action pack, blood-bath filled with interesting and funny cameos (Anna Farris, Will Forte and others) and silly gags. Some are perhaps a bit too silly and as the film moves towards its predictable end, the action wanes some, so it’s not perfect on any scale. It is, however, entertaining.

Rightly Rated R, the screenplay for Keanu, written by Alex Rubens and Jordan Peele, doesn’t hold back on stereotyping and might be offensive were it not delivered with such tongue-in-cheek zeal. Having a kitten as a catalyst for everything that ensues is brilliant and even when things go from asinine to outright ridiculous, it’s okay, because laughter abounds. Key and Peele rock this film with their own brand of comedy.  It earns a B from me.

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