Before he burst onto the scene as 2017’s hottest new director, Jordan Peele was best known as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele. The two gained national fame from their eponymous sketch comedy show, which ran for five years and gained traction by posting their best sketches on YouTube.
When the popular show ended in 2015, many were afraid that they may have seen the end of Key & Peele. However, those fears were assuaged with the release of Keanu (2016), which brought the full comedic power of the duo into a feature film.
The movie begins when a down-on-his-luck stoner named Rell (Jordan Peele) finds a kitten, who he promptly names Keanu. However, when Keanu is stolen, Rell enlists his best friend Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to help find him.
The pair quickly discover that a high-level gang called the “Blips” had taken Keanu when they mistakenly targeted Rell’s house instead of his next-door neighbor’s. Despite Clarence’s insistence that Rell should give up the search for Keanu, Rell decides that they must put on the personas of street-hardened gangsters to get a meeting with the gang’s leader, Cheddar (Method Man).
When the two actually meet Cheddar, the gang leader mistakes the pair for the notorious “Allentown Brothers,” two of the deadliest gang-bangers in the city. Forced to prove their skills in order to win back Keanu, Rell and Clarence must fake their way into a real-life street gang.
If this plot sounds ridiculous to you, it’s because it is. The whole movie feels like an extra-long sketch from the TV show, with the absurd humor typical of Key & Peele. However, the chemistry between Key and Peele carries the film, as every interaction between the two is irresistibly engrossing.
The situational comedy of the movie is funny in a cringe-worthy sort of way. Key and Peele use their ability to create immersive and convincing characters to portray themselves as “white” black guys who are trying their hardest to act tough. This incongruence leads to a pervasive tension throughout the movie, as the gangsters routinely display their skepticism of Rell and Clarence, forcing them to go to great lengths in an attempt to keep their cover. At one point, Clarence convinces a whole team of gangsters that George Michael (of Wham! fame) was a black icon.
As a film, Keanu succeeds in translating Key & Peele’s absurdist comedy into a full-length movie without sacrificing the style of a sketch. However, this comedy is not particularly special beyond the talents of the lead actors. It becomes quite predictable, which makes the resolution of the film feel overly scripted and out of sync with the rest of the film. The plot development runs much like a frat pack movie, which is disappointing due to Peele’s skill in narrative construction. Director Peter Atencio, who also directed the TV show, fails to transcend the level of complexity of the show, leading me to believe that Atencio’s skills may not translate so well to cinema.
Despite the structural shortfalls of the film, Keanu is a very entertaining film. Fans of Key & Peele will get exactly what they expect to get, and fans of comedy in all forms will find Keanu to be worth a shot.
Wagner’s Watchworthiness: 7/10