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Movie Review: Keanu
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Keanu the Cat

Keanu
Director: Peter Atencio
Screenwriter: Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens
Cast: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long, Will Forte, Tiffany Haddish, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Jason Mitchell
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R | 100 Minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2016

“We in the market right now for, like, a gangster pet.”

Directed by Peter Atencio (Key & Peele, The Last Man on Earth), Keanu is the age-old story of two friends who pose as ruthless gangbangers to retrieve a stolen kitten named Keanu, which – as we all know – is Hawaiian for “cool breeze over the mountains.”

Jordan Peele stars as Rell, a soft-spoken stoner whose life is forever changed when the most precious of kittens shows up at his doorstep. A graphic artist, Rell makes little Keanu the subject of his next artistic endeavor: a calendar where the kitten plays assorted characters from iconic movies like The Shining, Heat, and New Jack City. But when Cheddar (Method Man), the leader of the notorious 17th Street Blips, steals the cat, Rell and his straight-laced cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) are forced into action.

Assuming the identity of Tectonic and Shark Tank, a pair of assassins with a penchant for backflips and bloodbaths, Rell and Clarence attempt to infiltrate the Blips and rescue their feline friend from a life of crime. If you’ve seen Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, you’re familiar with the duo’s ability to turn on a dime and change their speech, posture, and demeanor to create an entirely new character. To blend in with Blip members HI-C (Tiffany Haddish), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Stitches (Jamar Malachi Neighbors), and Bud (Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton), the nerds transform into hardened gangsters who just so happen to listen to George Michael.

Keanu is an endearing, entirely absurd amalgam of John Wick, Pineapple Express, and 21 Jump Street; a subversive action-comedy that serves as a showcase for Key and Peele’s excellent chemistry. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love Atencio’s film, but if you’re unfamiliar with Key & Peele, you may be left wondering what all the fuss is about. Keanu is often hilarious, but it never quite gels as a narrative.

The film plays more like a 100-minute episode of the duo’s popular sketch series, with Keanu serving as the through line. The story zips from one outlandish scenario to another, like visiting a broken-down strip joint called HPV (“Hot Party Vixens”), to roughing up Rell’s eccentric weed dealer, Hulka (Will Forte), who collects old school hip-hop records and sports white-guy cornrows that even James Franco would be envious of. The movie is at its best, however, when playing with racial stereotypes and gender expectations – something most studio films avoid altogether. It often feels like they could push the envelope further, but opt for something safe and silly instead.

Key and Peele’s transition from television to film isn’t a comedic masterwork, but it’s a promising start for the duo’s big screen career. There’s a lot to love here, including a ton of gags I dare not spoil. Not every joke lands, but the underlying heart of the movie – Rell and Clarence’s friendship, and their mutual affection for the most adorable cat in the world – keeps Keanu afloat.

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