People love adorable baby animals, and the comic duo of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are hilarious, so it stands to reason their feature film debut, Keanu, which finds the pair trying to retrieve a lost kitten, would be a major success. Unfortunately, the film falls flat by having too thin of a premise to support scenes that run on for far too long and jokes that never really land. While there are still some laughs to be found throughout Keanu, Peter Atencio’s film always feels like a comedy that’s straining when it should be a big, easy hit.
Rell (Peele) is reeling from a breakup with his girlfriend when a cute, adorable kitten comes across his doorstep. He immediately falls for the little guy and builds his whole life around the cat, who he names “Keanu”. When his apartment gets broken into, he and his cousin Clarence (Key) do some investigating and find that the cat was stolen by a local gang, the 17th Street Blips. In order to infiltrate the gang, Rell and Clarence act street tough and put on gangsta personas in an attempt to retrieve Keanu from the gang boss, Cheddar (Method Man).
Rell and Clarence pretending they’re tough when really they’re just a couple of nerds is really the entire joke of Keanu. While Key & Peele’s sketch comedy has brilliantly played with racial humor, here it feels like the start of a good idea that never really blossomed into anything more challenging or unique. We know that there’s a stereotype for African-American men in urban settings, but this film doesn’t do anything with the stereotype other than poking fun at it in the softest, most obvious way possible.
From there, the movie also gets hung up on other jokes that rarely work. For example, Clarence is a huge George Michael fan, and the film really wants to get a lot of mileage out of his affinity for this “quirky” fandom. But the film keeps digging into this well so many times, and it doesn’t come up with anything worthwhile. It’s just a comical juxtaposition that isn’t all that funny to begin with.
Thankfully, Key and Peele are such charismatic performers that they can carry the movie through its weaker moments, and Atencio shoots the film pretty well, especially an opening action sequence that hints at a more exhilarating picture, which sadly never arrives. The talent behind Keanu is all in place, but it never comes together, which is a shame. Some may say it’s blasphemous, but Keanu proves that sometimes an adorable kitten isn’t enough.