Comedy Central sketchsters Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele bring their typically hilarious brand of racially-charged humour to the big screen with this satirical action romp. Playing, as usual, on the perception of race in contemporary America, Keanu sees the duo as a pair of thirtysomething suburbanites, forced to infiltrate gangland LA as hard-charging gangbangers, in order to rescue their kidnapped kitten – the titular Keanu (it’s Hawaiian for “cool breeze”). Throw in a big name cameo (Anna Faris), ludicrously over-the-top action sequences, the reclamation of a forgotten pop classic, and an almost hilariously begrudging use of The N Word (“you went straight there”, Key’s Clarence observes), and the stage is set for what should be the action-comedy romp of the year. It doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it makes a damn fine stab at getting there.
As regards the issue of race in America today, it’s hard to fault Key & Peele – both of whom are mixed race – for their ongoing crusade to blow the issue as wide open as possible in television sketch form and, now, on the big screen to boot. Keanu’s greatest success, in fact, comes about through the duo’s in-character exploration of playing to the stereotypes of one’s own race, a notion they find as abhorrent as we, the audience, do their eventual criminal exploits. Despite this success, however, Keanu simply lacks the fire to keep itself powering along; a number of sequences – Faris’ cameo being a prominent offender – are simply dragged out too far past the point of sustaining their comedic worth. To be fair, there’s always a laughter-fuelled trade-off – the Faris cameo, for example, intercuts with Key’s brilliant verbal recasting of George Michael as a murderous black entertainer with daddy issues – but, more often than not, the drag factor feels oddly overpowering, and suggests that the duo haven’t quite shaken their Comedy Central short form quite yet.
That said, they are as watchable on the big screen as they’ve ever been in your living room; Keanu’s reasonably witty screenplay (co-written by Peele) affords the pair a more than healthy dose of verbal sparring and chucklesome banter. The dialogue is genuinely something to behold, but it does force the question of whether or not an entire movie centring on the duo’s drive time discussion of “Liam Neesons” movies would, in fact, be funnier than the whacky exploits of Keanu. That the film forgoes this source of strength with alarming frequency makes such a question all the more poignant, as far too much of Keanu is spent on the intricacies of gangland culture, to the point that the audience periodically forgets the whole pesky “cat plot” – despite the titular quest object literally being the subject of the movie’s poster and marketing campaign.
Again though, Keanu ricochets back from this fault with outright stellar – and almost parodically on-point, action-wise – direction by Key & Peele alum Peter Atencio. Between Atencio’s helming and Steve Jablonsky’s fittingly overblown and comically requisite action score, there’s a fitting tone and synergy that keeps Keanu at least stylistically on the money throughout, though their efforts are let down by the somewhat bizarre frequency of narrative wandering. Despite this, Keanu is – on the whole – a rather entertaining and satirical jab at a world given undue glamour by the likes of Boyz N The Hood and Menace 2 Society (Peele’s ‘Rell even curls up beneath a New Jack City poster). Its lack of focus toward its central plot can, at times, become infuriating; with a comedic sensibility as precise as that of Key & Peele’s, however, Keanu ultimately scores more hits than misses. It’s unlikely to draw in much in the way of a new crowd for the duo’s antics, but those already enamoured by the exploits of (arguably) America’s two finest racial comics will find enough of the talents they know and love to forgive its foibles and embrace Keanu.
Keanu is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, July 15th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.