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Keanu (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 26, 2020



KEANU (2016)

Starring Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Jason Mitchell, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, Will Forte, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Rob Huebel, Madison Wolfe, Jordyn A. Davis, Brittany Seymour, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Faris and the voice of Keanu Reeves.

Screenplay by Jordan Peele & Alex Rubens.

Directed by Peter Atencio.

Distributed by Warner Bros.  98 minutes.  Rated R.

Keanu lets out one of the biggest secrets of life in the hood.  No matter what a badass you are – you can be a drug dealer, a gang banger, or a hardened assassin – you are gonna just melt at the sight of a tiny fluffy kitty.

The kitten who gives this film its name is just simply one of the most adorable creatures on Earth.  It doesn’t seem completely fantastical that he causes all the mayhem that he does; drug wars, murders, kidnapping, gunfights, all because a whole lot of bad people want to own a five pound ball of fur.

It’s a wonderfully surreal idea for a movie, the type of wild flight of fancy that could only occur to the wonderfully cracked comic duo Key and Peele.  It’s a dangerous idea for their first film as well, if this kind of idea were poorly executed it could destroy their movie career before it even got started.

No worries, Keanu has style to spare.  It’s one of the most original and funny films in recent years, a hysterical parody of the gangsta world of drugs, sex and violence.  In fact, the film is opened with a pure action sequence, with a pair of crazed assassins laying waste to a church which has been converted to a drug warehouse.  The only surviving witness, the kitten, who evades gunfire and charms the black-hearted killers before escaping into the LA streets.

The stars play a couple of middle-class black cousins, one is Rell (Peele) a morose stoner who is getting over a serious dumping, the other is Clarence (Key) a married father who long ago lost any game he may have had.  When Rell is at a particular low point, Keanu the cat shows up on his doorstep.  He falls hard for the kitten, not realizing that two gangs and the assassins are all looking for the cat.  When the cat is kidnapped, the guys decide to go to find him, trying to act much tougher than they actually are.

The idea of middle-class guys pretending to be gang-bangers is one that has been done before, usually poorly – Malibu’s Most Wanted, anyone?  But even when the storyline periodically lags, or the guys rely on excessive violence to move things along, the script is still zingy and very funny.

A running gag where one of the lead characters convinces a bunch of gang bangers that the music of George Michael is a hardcore G is just another example of the comic duo’s offbeat vibe.  Wacky, but oddly realistic dialogue makes this film stand out.

For example:

Rell: I’m here ’cause my place got broken into. Does anyone shady come by here?

Hulka: I mean, the 17th Street Blips.

Clarence: The 17th Street Blips, OK, where are they?

Hulka: (confused beat.) 17th Street.

Smart and funny dialogue like this keeps things going when the storyline gets away from the guys.  And even if the climax is just a bit too busy, in the end Keanu is a pretty terrific film debut.

Plus, did I mention that the kitten was cute as hell?  Yeah, okay I did, but that can’t be stressed strongly enough.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: April 29, 2016.

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