click to enlarge Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu.
Very rarely do I see a comedy that, when I think about it days after, I find myself laughing at the memory of its most inspired moments. Such is the case with Keanu, the film debut of the comedy team Key and Peele. While this feature is uneven and will come nowhere close to making my “Top 10” list of 2016, there are more than enough inspired moments to make it worth taking in. That it also contains some timely and effective digs at racial stereotypes only adds to its enjoyment as well as signal there’s more at play here than the pursuit of cheap laughs.

Keegan-Michael Key is Clarence, a hardworking family man who’s so intent on pleasing his wife and children that he takes no time for himself and has lost his own identity in the process. His ultra-conservative nature alienates him from his cousin Rell (Jordan Peele), who’s in a funk because his girlfriend has left him. However, he’s snapped out of his doldrums when an incredibly cute kitten, which he dubs Keanu, winds up on his doorstep. Taking the wayward feline in, Rell begins to spend far too much time with the cat, going so far as recreating famous film scenes with him, photographing him for a calendar that would be a runaway success if he were smart enough to produce and sell it. Wouldn’t you know it, his happiness is destroyed again when drug dealers mistake his apartment for that of a rival, trashing it and taking Keanu in the process.

This sets in motion circumstances that require the ultra-nerdy Clarence and the perpetually timid Rell to assume the identity of two ruthless killers in order to ingratiate themselves with local drug pushers who have Keanu. It’s a flimsy conceit but it yields some comedic gems. Put in charge of their own micro-gang of four hoods, Clarence has them engage in a sharing circle in which they tell each other their names and two things about themselves. The hoods’ disbelieving reaction and their responses are very funny; however this scene is topped later on when Clarence is forced to justify his love of George Michael’s music. His explanation of the meaning of “Father Figure” is inspired, as is the street thug’s acceptance and praise of the music.


As with most comedies, this is a hit-or-miss affair. An extended sequence featuring Anna Farris playing a whacked-out version of herself never finds its footing while the obligatory climactic gun fight goes on far too long. However, the inspired moments are more plentiful than those that go awry, and when you come to realize this is a clever take on the Keanu Reeves’ actioner John Wick, you come to appreciate it all the more. Key’s wide-eyed expressions when he goes full gangsta and Keanu prancing about a drug lab being riddled with gunfire as overwrought operatic tones play are enough to leave viewers satisfied when they walk out of the theater.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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