My entire experience with comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key has been limited to the five-minute (or shorter) clips shared on social media from their sketch comedy show, Key and Peele. What I’ve seen has sometimes been smart or funny — and rarely worthy of cringing. Of course, the safety of sketch comedy is that it takes a special kind of awful to make something that’s only five minutes long into something unbearable. However — and this is true of so many TV shows turned into feature-length films — what works over a handful of minutes won’t necessarily stretch out over 100 minutes. This is unfortunately true of Key and Peele’s first movie, Keanu, something that takes a simple premise and can’t properly build a comedy around it, constantly repeating itself and driving what likability it has straight into the ground.
The idea here is that stoner Rell (Peele) has been dumped by his girlfriend, which sends him into an emotional tailspin until an abandoned kitten shows up. Rell gets uncomfortably attached to this young cat, whom he names Keanu. Tragedy strikes when Keanu is kidnapped by a Los Angeles gang, requiring Rell, with the help of his uptight, nebbish cousin Clarence (Key), to attempt to infiltrate said gang to get his cat back. In doing so, they accidentally impersonate two hard-assed assassins (also played by Key and Peele), putting them in the middle of a drug deal organized by the gang’s leader, Cheddar (Method Man).
The film turns into sort of an impromptu undercover buddy-cop thing with Rell and Clarence (who drives a minivan and loves George Michael) pretending to be hard-nosed gangsters. There are tinges of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007) and, even more so, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street (2012) — but with neither of those films’ care or attention to detail. Keanu is specifically one-note (or just a couple of notes) and frustratingly never realizes this. The bulk of the humor is based on Rell and Clarence trying to pass themselves off as bloodthirsty killers and drug dealers — which they’re both the exact opposite of — and a ton of jokes about George Michael. (So many, I lost count. Just George Michael jokes over and over.)
I get frustrated just thinking about it. Key and Peele both seem to have more sense than this and the ability to be funnier than this. Both are genuinely likable on screen (really, this is what mostly keeps the film afloat), but the script (by Peele and TV writer Alex Rubens) feels half-baked. There’s something missing — some spark of creativity, perhaps — at every turn. Just when the film feels like it’s on to something (like the scene with a drugged-out Anna Faris as herself), Keanu just doesn’t quite go far enough or even know where to go. The entire film feels aimless and lacking, right down to the pat, unsurprising ending. It’s a film that wants to be a bit absurd and ridiculous, but can’t quite figure out how. But there are moments of what could’ve been a better comedy buried in Keanu, making the entire endeavor even more disappointing. Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity.