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“Keanu” – Key and Peele bust out the funny for the big screen

“Keanu…I think it means ‘cool breeze’ in Hawaiian.”

keanuNutshell: One incredibly cute kitten.  One incredibly hard R of a film.  Hilarious, inappropriate, and sometimes downright tacky (I mean that as a compliment), Keanu brings the Key and Peele TV viewers know and love, and shows us what they’re like working blue.  Great cameos amp up the enjoyment, but while their riffs are the same, this ain’t their TV show. It’s better.  Grade: B+

Before: Damn that’s one cute kitten.  Look at him.  LOOK AT HEEEEEEM.  I wonder if I could steal one of those movie posters.  I know just where I’d put it…the movie though?  Probably a silly cash-grab.  I love me some Key and Peele, but they can’t possibly make a decent comedy based on a getting back the kitten gag.  Can they?  *watches trailer* Okay, maybe I’ll give this a shot.

During: Damn that’s one cute kitten.  Look at him.  LOOK AT HEEEEEEM. I.  Cannot.  Look.  Away.  The cuteness is overpowering.  But that’s the whole point, innit?   Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play cousins Clarence and Rell; Clarence is put together maybe a bit too well (Key) and Rell is a stoner who’s getting over a breakup (Peele).  Meanwhile, as Rell wallows in self-pity, a gangland clash leaves a tiny kitten lost in the streets of LA.  Where’s a poor kitty gonna go?  Why, to Rell’s house, naturally.  Rell instantly bonds with the little guy and names him George (sike)…but bad news.  Another gang breaks into Rell’s home in an apparent mix-up, and takes Keanu.  Worse news? The bad guys who just killed an entire drug house full of gang members were smitten by the kitten too. Can Clarence and Rell, as middle-class normcore as they come, pass themselves off as hard-timer thug-life boys and get little Keanu back?  They’re sure gonna try.

Digging into their usual riffs on racial identity, cultural stereotypes and what makes people who they are, Key and Peele are in their element here.  There are no TV censors to tell them to dial things back, and nobody to say a scene is too much.  So bring on the ultra-violence, strip club boobies, and crazy drug use!  Yeah, that last sentence doesn’t exactly scream laugh-riot (more like The Wire…but more about that in a tic), but trust me, these two know how to take a negative, point at it, and laugh their asses off.

There are definitely scenes that are a bit too much. But not because they’re unbelievable – this is a crazy comedy along the lines of The Blues Brothers or the Friday series. It’s more that there are times when a scene goes on just a bit too long, a gag beaten into viewers just a bit too much. But overall Key and Peele take a one-joke film thin on plot (let’s face it; the plot is “get the kitten”) and make it enjoyable thanks to their Everyman approach to the situation.  Their particular “fish out of water” gag works here, thanks to a script that isn’t afraid to go there, and actors who are just as game.  My favorite scenes that showcase their style have to do with Clarence’s favorite singer/songwriter, the great George Michael.  And, of course, I heart anything that kitten is in.  Naturally.

Keep an eye out for Method Man, Luis Guzman, Will Forte, Rob Huebel, Nia Long, Anna Farris and The Wire‘s Tiffany Haddish.  (See, told you I was coming back to The Wire.)  As for little Keanu?  Whoever did the kitten wrangling here did an amazing job. And so did Keanu.  I only wish my two kitties were half as well behaved.  Hell, I’d take an eighth.

After: Damn that’s one cute kitten.  Look at him.  LOOK AT HEEEEEEM.  I still want that poster.

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Denise Kitashima Dutton
Denise has been covering books, movies and music since 2003. She's hoping she'll get the hang of it any day now.