“A dog is very easy to break, but cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.”
-Jack Byrnes (Meet the Parents)
Comedy is such a tricky genre. Film-goers’ tastes change by the minute, and making something witty that has longevity might be the most difficult thing to do in Hollywood. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, better known as the comedy duo Key and Peele, did something even more challenging. They made the jump from television to the big screen. Television stars have had a traditionally hard time cracking the film industry without some sort of unique idea. Fortunately, Key and Peele have not only a novel premise, but the talent and charisma to pull it off.
Keanu has one of the silliest and most moranic plots you will ever see. Peele plays Rell, a starving artist whose life is turned upside down after his girlfriend leaves him. When Rell finds a kitten scratching at his door, he quickly falls in love and names him Keanu. Key’s character Clarence is Rell’s best friend and cousin. With Clarence’s family out of town, the duo decides to have a fun weekend. The action begins to kick in when they return home to find Rell’s home ransacked and Keanu missing. Rell’s life quest is now to find his lost kitten no matter what the cost.
Under most circumstances, a film like Keanu shouldn’t work. It’s not a realistic comedy, but it’s not a full-on spoof. The talent of not only Key and Peele, but also director Peter Atencio, is what truly propels this film beyond a normal comedy. Atencio is far from a household name, and in fact, he hasn’t done much outside of the Key and Peele show. Atencio has a flair for visuals, and a lot of the comedy rests in how it is conveyed through the lens. He also brought a grandiose style that can be found on the television show, but it is much more evident here.
The supporting cast is fantastic. Key and Peele have a significant amount of clout in the comedic community. Will Forte, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, and Rob Huebel are all amazing, but aside from two other semi A-list cameos, they don’t dig too deep into this bag. The majority of the supporting cast are a bunch of unknown actors. Jason Mitchell who played Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton is the only one who has had any prior success. Tiffany Haddish, who plays Hi-C, is terrific and convincingly tough. Will Forte was a particular cameo who stood out to me. He has a special ability to play silly characters and make them feel real. As good as the supporting cast is, no one steals the show quite like Keanu himself. There is something magical about watching a kitten run through action scenes.
The most glaring problem with Keanu is the range of people who will get the majority of these jokes. It is thoroughly steeped in not just pop culture, but deeply niche pop culture. For a viewer like myself, I find this refreshing, and it’s the type of comedy that in my mind I will be able to revisit. But for the majority of film-goers, this will probably not be the case. There are several jokes that fell flat in my theater, not because they weren’t funny, but because the audience didn’t get the joke. For instance, Method Man’s character is named Cheddar. This might be slightly amusing to a normal viewer, but to me, an avid fan of The Wire, I recognized the reference and found it hilarious.
Even though this film might not appeal to everyone, it is funny. Peter Atencio is a terrific comedic director, and he has a promising career ahead of him. Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens’s script is witty and silly, a combination that isn’t often found in modern comedy. This film’s hidden strength is its small unknown supporting cast, who give Key and Peele the opportunity to do what they do best. Key and Peele are the perfect team. Key is loud and spastic, while Peele is soft and silly. Are they the millennial version of Abbott and Costello? Not yet, but they will be soon!