Directed by Peter Atencio
Written by Jordan Peel and Alex Rubens
Starring Jordan Peel, Keegan-Michael Key, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Luis Guzman, Will Forte and Nia Long
Runtime 98 minutes
It’s often tough for comedians to successfully jump from the small screen to the big screen, largely because the material given to them is someone else’s interpretation of their strengths instead of the comedian writing for themselves (as they are many times untested screenwriters, studios are unwilling to take the gamble). Last year, Amy Schumar proved that a first-time screenwriting comedian can craft something very good while remaining inside the persona they want to project. Now, we see the feature film debut of the comedy team of Key and Peel, famous for their Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peel. Many wondered how the duo would transition to film given their shorter segments but they’ve emerged victorious with Keanu, a roast of buddy action comedies that sees our heroes going out of their element to retrieve one of the cutest kittens ever, named Keanu.
The story begins with a gangland massacre perpetrated by The Allentown Brothers (Played by Keean-Michael Key and Jordan Peel) and the escape of an adorable kitten, who runs across Los Angeles and turns up at Rell (Jordan Peel)’s door. Rell is suffering from a break-up (and shows off some co-dependent tendencies) so the kitten’s arrival is just the thing for him to take his mind off his ex and focus all of his attention and worth onto the kitten, now named Keanu, as he tells his uptight, insecure family-man cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) when arrives at Rell’s house to console him after the break-up. A few days later, Rell’s house is ransacked and Keanu is missing. The house was broken into by mistake, as the Blips (a gang expelled from both the Bloods and the Crips) thought the house belonged to the pot dealer Hulka (Will Forte), who lives across the courtyard. Rell and Clarence get the location of the gang and seek to get Keanu back, which devolves into a weekend long excursion into the LA underworld, somewhere these two are very much not familiar with. With a request from his wife Hannah (Nia Long) to be more ‘him’ while she’s out of town with their daughter, Clarence adopts a gang persona (Shark Tank), which forces Rell to do the same (Tectonic) and they say that they are The Allentown Brothers when asked, giving them a very dangerous reputation that they are wholly unaware of.
Cheddar (Method Man), the leader of the Blips, says he’ll give the kitten (now renamed New Jack and outfitted with a doo rag and a gold chain) if they accompany a drug drop and teach his crew ‘how it’s done in Allentown’. Rell accompanies Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), Cheddar’s #1, into the house for the drop while Clarence stays in the van (yes, the van) and hosts a team-building session (which is his job) and a George Michael appreciation session while they wait. Things proceed to get crazier and crazier until the climax and an extremely satisfying and unexpected (for the genre) ending/epilogue.
Co-star/co-writer Peel, with co-writer Alex Rubens, have done something others only dream of: they combined a satire of action/comedies with internet cat videos and made it work. The two were also writers on the Key and Peel show, so the script was (obviously) not in the hands of people who aren’t familiar with the duo. One of the best things they do with the script is constantly make Rell and Clarence note how insane things are progressing and how they really don’t belong in these situations yet they keep doing things that draws them further into the situation all for the retrieval of Keanu. The tone is what keeps this film fresh, because if this were a Michael Bay film (and it easily could be), it would be much more serious and the escalations would be treated as logical, but here nearly every character knows that the situation is completely out of hand and it’s largely due to these two men who have no business being anywhere near the street gang life.
Director Peter Atencio, also a veteran from the TV show, keeps everything (including the multiple murders) light but with a genuine sense of fear and dread, considering this is the first time these characters have ever been these types of situations. The pacing flags a little in the last third, with some of the conventions that are mocked taking over as plot, but that is quickly rectified and doesn’t derail the film. Atencio doesn’t show off much, but he does put in some flourishes that poke fun at Bay as much as the script does, utilizing slow motion and unnecessary (and ultimately pointless) choreography and camera moves that are equally unnecessary and ultimately pointless, which just adds to the joke. It’s hard to know exactly how Atencio will fare when he’s not openly mocking another director and applying his own ideas to a film, but for this film, he does a great job.
Keanu takes what is largely a one-joke premise and turns it into something completely unexpected and utterly charming. The quest to get back a kitten could have been kind of dumb, but in the hands of Key and Peel, it is inexhaustibly enjoyable. This is another example of what comedians can do if they are left to their own devices to create their own content and get it onto the screen. Hopefully studios take note and stop trying to force material onto talented individuals that make them seem less talented. Keanu is more fun than it has any right to be and gives us quite a bit to look forward to when it comes to Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel.