Keanu is Disappointingly Short on Jokes

To comedy fans, Keanu has a promising premise; “A pair of milquetoast suburbanites, played by the suburb comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, are thrown into the world of violent criminal activity on a search for an adorable runaway kitten. “ It’s a premise that could carry an entire movie, especially with Key & Peele in the lead roles. But unfortunately the performers, with a script written by Peele and Alex Rubens, rely too much upon the premise being inherently funny and don’t worry enough about filling the film with jokes. The jokes that are there are funny but there simply aren’t enough of them for an hour-and-a-half long film.

Much of the comedy of Keanu is mined from characters with the decidedly not-tough personas of Key and Peele affecting the attitudes and dialects of urban criminality in order recover the titular kitten. Those scenes in which Key’s Clarence and Peele’s Rell are faking their way through fraught transactions with the criminal element are funny and entertaining, playing, as one might expect, like sketches from their beloved and sorely-missed show. Unfortunately, the spaces between those “sketches,” fail to compel. The quest for the kitten, while funny in theory, serves only to move the characters from one comic set piece to another. Worse, the film struggles mightily with tone; the scenes in which the two nerds find themselves in standoffs and gunfights play out as a winking spoof of action and urban crime films, but the scenes meant to establish the characters are straight-faced and boring; Clarence doesn’t stand up for himself enough, Rell has just gone through a tough breakup. Giving the characters such banal motivations could work, if the filmmakers would simply bother to make fun of the banality,

The real upside of Keanu is that we know the Key and Peele partnership did not end with Key and Peele. This is just the first Key and Peele movie, and the performers will learn lessons and improve themselves as comedians for the big screen.  Keanu is not an assured movie (frustratingly, the movie backs down from its darkest, funniest joke), it can be assumed that assuredness will come with experience. While Keanu is not a success, it still contains ample evidence of Key and Peele’s talent. The film almost gets away with not being funny enough simply because one or both of its stars are onscreen in almost every scene. We can look forward to the next Key and Peele outing.

Keanu (Warner Bros.)

Director : Peter Atencio

Writer: Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens

Producer: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Peter Principato, Paul young, Joel Zadak

Cinematographer: Jas Shelton

Editor: Nicholas Monsour

Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, Will Forte, Rob Huebel, Anna Faris

English/ R/ 98 min.

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