Movie Review: "Keanu" (2016)

A little more than a month ago, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” opened in movie theaters around the world. As you may recall, I was not impressed. Amongst its other problems, “BvS” takes itself far too seriously, offering up fights that play out in melodramatic fashion complete with over-the-top music. These moments are almost comedic.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele seemingly understand the way these battles function as their big-screen team-up, “Keanu,” starts in exactly this self-serious melodramatic fashion. Here though, it’s meant to elicit laughs, and it does, just like the rest of the film.

Best known for their Comedy Central series, “Key and Peele,” the actors play Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele), two friends living in Los Angeles. Following a bad break-up, Rell finds solace in a kitten he names Keanu, only to have Keanu quickly stolen from him. Based on sketchy information from his drug-dealing neighbor (Will Forte), Rell goes with Clarence to confront an up-and-coming drug dealer/gang leader, Cheddar (Method Man), to get the kitten back. And from there, things get really weird.

“Keanu” is a terribly funny movie from start to finish, through all its various twists and turns. It is as though the writers, Peele and Alex Rubens, thought about opposites, came up with kittens and drug dealers as two things which don’t really go together, and then proceeded to structure a movie around these two exact elements. They, the cast, and director Peter Atencio succeed in making an enjoyable movie from the disparate elements, and it doesn’t hurt that they toss in loads of George Michael for good measure.

While Keegan-Michael Key may not have written the movie, he does get the better role. From the moment we meet him, Clarence is clearly wound too tight. Even his wife, Hannah (Nia Long), knows as much and as she heads away for the weekend encourages him to unwind, something he wishes to accomplish by watching a Liam Neeson actioner. Clarence is untroubled that Hannah has gone out of town with her daughter, the daughter’s friend, and the friend’s dad (played by Rob Huebel), but not the friend’s mom (played by no one because she’s not actually in the movie).

As with much of the movie, while you might feel the urge to take a stab at guessing what is going to happen here, only the broad strokes will be accurate. “Keanu,” wonderfully, takes everything that we expect to happen in such a film and gives it a half-turn. That is, while nothing in the movie is terribly unsurprising, neither is it exactly would you would expect. It’s a case of “I kinda knew where that was going, but I didn’t see ‘x’ coming.” The same is true of the characters. They are relatively stock individuals, but they are thrown into humorous situations and given various little quirks as well.

Much of the humor stems from Clarence and Rell trying to be gangsters rather than a typical dad and a lonely heart. As such, they deepen their voices and toss out many a curse. Improbably, their taking on the personas doesn’t immediately grow tiresome. Rather than being a testament to the creative nature of the endeavor, it is mainly the actors’ sheer force of will that keeps it all going, or keeps each scene funny enough for long enough that you want to travel along with them.

It may sound like a slight, but “Keanu” is a film undemanding of its audience. Those who are good with references (musical and otherwise) will find many small jokes, but everyone watching will find a whole lot to like.

“Keanu” may throw its characters into some deep, dark, situations, but never goes dark itself, maintaining its lighthearted, incredibly funny, tone from beginning to end. Plus, it centers on a kitten and I’m told that everyone loves kittens.




photo credit: Warner Bros.

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