There’s a reason kittens have Instagram accounts with thousands of followers – they’re adorable. So what better way to unite cat lovers, Key and Peele fans, and basically anyone with a heart than by making an action comedy with an adorable kitten as the title character? As someone with a rather intense kitten obsession, the opportunity to attend a work-in-progress screening of the Peter Atencio-directed film Keanu at SXSW was an absolute treat. Not only did it warm my kitten-loving heart, but it’s also quite the showcase for Key and Peele as well.
When the film opens, Rell (Jordan Peele) is heartbroken. Mere minutes later, he completely forgets about his break-up when a kitten shows up at his door. And who can blame him? This kitten is adorable! He dubs the little cutie Keanu and the two become fast friends. However, tragedy strikes when Rell comes home and discovers Keanu has been catnapped by an LA gang leader. Desperate to get him back, Rell convinces his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to pose as the notorious Allentown brothers in an effort to rescue him.
Let’s address the obvious first – I’m a cat lover and as a cat lover, Keanu hits all the right notes. This kitten is just the cutest. Whether he’s posing for Rell’s kitten calendar or darting through a shootout in slow motion, you’re going to have a big grin on your face, if not cooing out loud. The challenge then becomes, how can you possibly have this sweet creature in peril without sucking the fun out of the film? Keanu actually does get pretty intense but Peele and co-writer Alex Rubens appropriately have the main human characters taking all the big risks. Whether Keanu is with Rell, the head of the gang or the real Allentown brothers, everyone loves him and that gives the film a uniquely playful vibe that highlights the unstoppable power of cute animals.
I was also wildly impressed by how well Key and Peele held my attention even when Keanu wasn’t around, as I expected to be solely focused on the cat and nothing more. I’ve never seen their show but I’d like to bet that’ll change in the near future because the two are absolutely delightful in the film. Their characters wind up in some pretty crazy situations and dish out one winning joke after the next, but they’ve also got a very natural appeal that makes them feel like real people. Keanu also boasts a roster of strong supporting characters, namely the group that Clarence and Rell have to team up with when they go to work for Cheddar (Method Man). Pair the rough and tough gang members with two stand up guys trying to save a kitten, and eventually you get this bizarrely charming camaraderie between the two factions.
Keanu hit SXSW as a work in progress, but it’s tough to imagine Atencio changing the cut much before the film’s April 29th debut. Not only did it get a big reaction at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, but it’s currently a tight piece with some very impressive visceral action sequences. The film clocks in at a swift 90 minutes with a narrative that builds a good deal of suspense despite the fact that it features a number of villains and a number of showdowns that feel as though they could be the big finish.
As one might expect, the film’s feline star steals the show but what makes Keanu so much more than a cute gimmick is that it’s a feature that’s brimming with humanity and heart too. There’s crazy behavior and zany scenarios, but it’s all backed by honest emotion, and that’s a pairing you don’t see in broad comedies very often.
Click here to catch up on all of our SXSW 2016 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below: