by Kevin Muller
Back in the early 2000’s, Dave Chappelle reigned supreme on Comedy Central with his sketch comedy show “Chappelle’s Show.” It was witty, hilarious, and incredibly smart. When he walked away from it, and the millions of dollars that Comedy Central supposedly threw at him to stay, the network was quick to find a comedian that could fill that void. The question was, could Comedy Central ever find someone even with half the talent that Chappelle possessed?
Enter Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who like Chappelle, are African-American, gifted writers, and talented performers. Though their writing doesn’t have the same sting as Chappelle’s, even though it is still pretty damn good, it is the two men’s ability to disappear into different characters that makes them a joy to watch. They can seamlessly slip into different races with perfect dialects and even better representations of the physicality of the people they are playing. You know a show is a success when you hear people constantly quote it. Key and Peele, as they are most popularly know as, had the pleasure of many people, of many ages, quoting their skits. They can both convincingly cater to both the black audience, who love laughing at the lameness of white people, and have those same white people laugh at themselves without every offending them. It is a very fine line that many Black comedians can’t walk but the two do it perfectly. Of course, with all this popularity and success, it was only a matter of time that a movie deal landed in their laps. Not ones for playing it safe, they based their first movie around an adorable little cat, which is the title character, “Keanu.”
Peele, plays Rell Williams, a sad underachieving sap whose girlfriend just dumped him because he has no direction in life. He whines about not understanding this while taking a huge hit from a smoked filled bong. Clarence, is the definition of a Devil Dog, dark on the outside but completely white on the inside. He is so incredibly pleasant that his wife, Hannah, played by Nia Long, longs for the day where he feeds into what he is trying to avoid, his inner street side. Key plays this role so incredibly well and provides many laughs in the film. The story starts with a bang, well, literally hundred of bangs from many guns firing trying to kill two mysterious men. The Dresden Brothers, played by Key and Pelle dressed in dark clothing and not talking, have just wiped out a local gang. The head of the gang’s cat, that has many names in the film depending on who is holding it, is retrieved by the Dresden Brothers for a moment before he escapes again.
The cat finds its way to Rell’s apartment. His life finds meaning again when he finds the kitten and takes it in as his own naming him Keanu, which he says is Hawaiin for Summer Breeze. What he does with the kitten is adorable and totally something some lonely cat people like him are guilty of partaking in. I will let you see it for yourself. Before he knows it though, the kitten is taken and the two set out on a journey to find Rell’s beloved pet.
While the film is definitely a comedy, the action is pretty damn well staged. As in 2010’s “The Other Guys”, it is impressive to watch that part of the movie taken seriously and done right. Director Peter Atencio seems to be highly influenced by films of 90’s action stars. All the slow motion, the exaggerated aerobatics, and dramatic flair is sprinkled in all the gun battles here. This isn’t taking away from Atencio’s ability to draw laughs out of this story either. Even though he has the two fantastic leading men, he is able to direct some solid and genuine laughs out from the entire cast.
Knowing Key and Peele, the movie probably had a ton of improvisation, which they pulled off masterfully, but what makes this a breath of fresh air is that it feels different than most of the wise ass comedy that Judd Apatow has made so much bank on. While some of the film could’ve been trimmed a tiny bit, there aren’t multiple scenes that feel overlong. It is always nice to have a comedy that has a decent story like this one does There are a couple of interesting twists and turns that the story takes that are cleverly hidden by Atcenio.
Out of the two main characters, Clarence gets the best gags, especially one involving George Michael. Both men, to survive in the dark underworld of the gangster culture, adopt the gangster walk and talk to hilarious results. Key and Peele are as great together as they are when they are either alone or sharing the screen with their costars. Method Man does fine work here as one of the top dogs in a local gang, who is in possession of Keanu, that sends Clarence and Rell on many dangerous and violent missions in exchange for the cat. While he definitely has the intimidating presence, when he reaches into his comedic side, he does quite well, even matched up with the two comedy leads. It is a relative new comer though that really gives Peele’s Rell something to work with in every scene they share together. Tiffany Hadish gives the lone woman in the group, Hi-C, just the right amount of swagger and dominance. Hi-C is constantly throwing tests at Rell, who she knows isn’t as hard as he tries to be, and seeing them go head to head is something great to see. The way she played it is very close to the character of “Snoop” from the television series “The Wire.”
Many fans of the show will be disappointed that the two stars don’t play a variety of characters. Yes, they play the silent hitmen, but they don’t speak or really have that much screen time. It is a wise move because some of the film does have a television feel and if they were to slip into too many characters, it would’ve ruined the cinematic feel of it all. Rell and Clarence are also not extremely original characters either. Rell’s coming of age journey and Clarence’s realization that he can’t always be the decent one, aren’t something we haven’t seen a dozen times in many other movies. It is Key and Peele’s dedication to the roles that makes this stay away from being just a generic comedy action movie. It plays it straight even though everything around them is so incredibly wacky and bizarre. Keanu is important to a lot of people and it is hilarious to see so many hard gangsters melt in the sight of a baby kitten.
The duo’s first film is a good start to showing us their gifts. It isn’t a home run or reinvents the way we see comedy, but is is well made and avoids many of the mistakes a freshman movie would commit. These two guys are funny as hell and have the ability to develop such creative and interesting ideas. Whoever thought a movie based on a cat would be this enjoyable, funny, and a great way to pass time?