No comedy act in recent years has been more astute at satirizing American culture than the one performed by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. For five seasons, the duo wrote and starred in their own Comedy Central show, aptly and simply named “Key & Peele.”
Whether they were poking fun at race, class, gender or sexual orientation – or any combination of the above – they weren’t afraid to tackle common cultural tropes and turn them on their topical heads. Example: the skit “Substitute Teacher,” in which a no-nonsense inner-city teacher moves to a mostly white suburban high school and chastises the students for what he considers their mispronunciation of their own names: Aaron, he says, should be pronounced A-Aron, Jacqueline should be Jay-Kwellen, Blake should be B-Lakay … and so on.
In its better moments, that same sense of lampoonery permeates Key and Peele’s first big-screen teaming, the feature-length comedy “Keanu.” Overly long and, like most skit-comedy sketches stretched past the five-minute mark, it ends up offering too little content to fill its running time. At moments, though, “Keanu” feels inspired.
Key and Peele star as cousins Clarence and Rell, characters – similar to the actors who play them – who are both biracial and nerds to the core. Rell spends most of his time stoned, while Clarence dresses like a J. Crew model and boogies to George Michael’s “Faith” album.
When Rell gets dumped by his girlfriend, Clarence heads over to offer support. But by the time he arrives, Rell has rebounded, having adopted a kitten that could easily win a Cutest-Kitty-Ever contest. Rell names his new pet Keanu – “It means heavenly breeze in Hawaiian,” he explains – and becomes newly distraught when Keanu gets stolen by drug dealers.
This makes the cat the film’s McGuffin, the object sought not only by Clarence and Rell but of at least two bands of bad guys as well. As the cousins search, and find themselves in situations that are as dangerous as they are unfamiliar – especially to the family-van-driving Clarence – Key and Peele find opportunities to play off the kinds of routines they’ve perfected over the years.
One particularly funny sequence occurs when Clarence, stuck on lookout duty with three gang members, not only is forced to explain why he drives a van (because, he says, it makes him less suspicious to cops) but he is then able to make a case for George Michael being truly OG.
“Keanu” the movies also boasts a lot of filler, from actress Anna Faris making a cameo appearance as herself to the obligatory cliché of clueless but motivated guys proving adept at using firearms. And most of the filler serves merely as a device that allows the cousins to channel their inner-gangsta as a way of finding, then saving, the kitty of Rell’s dreams.
Yet “Keanu” is better than what a lot of veteran “Saturday Night Live” comics have brought to the big screen, no small feat. And Key and Peele will no doubt improve.
They’ll just have to learn to do it without the cat.