Viewers of five terrific seasons of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Comedy Central show should groove to the award-winning team’s first movie together, Keanu. Key and Peele, which signed-off last year, offered often brilliant sketch comedy peppered with running jokes about Liam Neesons and Meryl Streeps, scalding send-ups of masculinity, whiteness and blackness, and stony riffs on drugs, sex and the ridiculousness of pop culture played out during long road trips.
Keanu is 100 sporadically funny, sweet-natured minutes of more of the same-ish—which wouldn’t be a bad thing if only the title character, a crazily adorable kidnapped kitten, weren’t the best thing about it. In this obvious play on John Wick, the action thriller in which Keanu Reeves avenges his pet’s death, the quicksilver Peele plays Rell, a pothead who’s been mopey and useless since his girl moved on. When the titular cat turns up on his front porch after surviving a bloody attack on a church where drugs are secretly being concocted, Rell takes him in, names him Keanu and finds a reason to live. Anyone who’s watched the trailer knows that burglars raid his house, the cat goes missing and Rell, enlisting the aid of his comfy, married, suburban cousin Clarence (Key), decides that the only way that he and Clarence can get Keanu back is by toughening up and acting “street.”
They beat the crap out of a squirrelly low-level drug dealer (Will Forte, riffing on James Franco’s Spring Breakers character) who drops a dime on drug kingpin Cheddar (Method Man), whom they track down at a strip club. By the way, there’s a killer run of jokes in that strip club scene featuring Rell and Clarence slamming each other for sounding like John Ritter—or Richard Pryor imitating white guys.
There’s also a laugh-out-loud funny bit in which Clarence schools gangbangers on why George Michael matters. If only more of the screenplay by Peele and Alex Reubens had hit on this level—in other words, the level of Key and Peele’s old TV show—Keanu might have soared.
Anyway, the drug lord promises to return the kitty as long as our heroes infiltrate L.A.’s nastiest drug ring and score some kills. This leads to a bunch of celebrity cameos, some big laughs and lots of violence, but not much in the way of drive or coherence. Unlike, say, old comedy movie teams of the past, Key and Peele aren’t joined at the hip; both act in and write other projects for other people. But when they do their next movie together (yes please), let’s hope it growls rather than just purrs.