Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 31, 2016)
Fresh off their eponymous Comedy Central series, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele land their first co-leading roles in 2016’s action-comedy Keanu. Rell Williams (Peele) finds himself despondent after his girlfriend dumps him. However, he discovers a new reason to live when a stray kitten lands on his door, and he names the feline “Keanu”.
Alas, this doesn’t last, as unknown parties ransack Rell’s house and abduct Keanu. Along with his straight-laced cousin Clarence Goobrill (Key), Rell strives to locate his beloved pet, a path that leads toward gang members, violence and danger.
As noted, Keanu gives Key and Peele their first cinematic leads, but they’ve worked in other films – especially Key, who could be found in well-known flicks like Pitch Perfect 2 and many others. Their TV series remains their primary claim to fame, though, and I doubt Keanu will do much to change that.
I feel that way largely because Keanu offers a surprisingly mediocre affair. Perhaps I went into it with excessively high expectations, as I like Key & Peele and figured the duo would make a seamless transition to big-screen stardom.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur, as Keanu musters only sporadic laughs. Part of the problem comes from the plot, as the movie lacks much originality. It opts for a “one crazy night”/”fish out of water” feel that goes down familiar paths too much of the time and fails to do a lot that seems creative.
Keanu also can seem meandering and self-indulgent. Key and Peele play the movie’s main villains as well as the leads, but I can’t figure out why. I guess this acts as a cute “Easter egg” for viewers who recognize the pair under makeup, but I can find no logical reason they needed to take on both parts. It feels like a gimmick without much real purpose.
The narrative itself wanders and lacks much clarity. Granted, Keanu doesn’t attempt much of a plot, as it seems more episodic in nature. Sure, the search for the cat acts as a motivator, but much of the action revolves around the wacky situations into which Rell and Clarence find themselves. There’s perfunctory exposition and character development but nothing especially involving.
With Key and Peele involved, some laughs ensue, but not nearly as many as I’d expect. Keanu offers the occasional chuckle without a lot of real hilarity, and even at only 100 minutes, it feels long. This harms the comedy as well, as the slow pacing detracts from any potential amusement.
As much as I want to like Keanu, the end result just doesn’t do much for me. Despite talented leads, the film sputters and fails to deliver the comedic goods.
Footnote: a teaser pops up after the conclusion of the end credits.