If you were to ask anyone what the best sketch comedy show in recent memory is, chances are they’ll answer with Key & Peele, and for good reason too. Not only have they brought an infectious energy to their craft in comedy, but they have also managed to inject surprisingly great filmmaking and smart commentary in their sketches. It’s inevitable that they would eventually get to do a feature length with their particular brand of humor. That day has finally come with Keanu. And to make the event even sweeter, it’s not only starring Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, but it’s written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens (a regular on the series) and it’s directed by Peter Atencio (the big reason why the sketches have come across as especially well made).
After experiencing a bad breakup, Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) thought it was all over, until one day he finds the cutest little kitten that he (and let’s be honest, anyone) has ever seen. It all turns around for him. However, after returning home one night with his cousin, Clarence Gobril (Keegan-Michael Key), he finds his house broken into – and Keanu stolen! After getting some information regarding Keanu’s whereabouts, the two find themselves having to infiltrate the underground world in order to get their kitty back.
Films based on sketches or made by sketch comedy groups have been around for a long time, and the results have been anything but consistent. Sometimes you get Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Monty Python) or Wet Hot American Summer (The State) and sometimes you get Brain Candy (Kids in the Hall) or Miss March (Whitest Kids U Know). Keanu doesn’t quite hit either the highs that films like these have brought nor the lows, it’s gives exactly what you would expect given the people involved. And that is kind of a problem. I think to call Keanu is big disappointment might be a bit of an overstatement in the grand scheme of things, but given the talent involved, it was hard for me to take anything else out of it as soon as the credits hit other than, “really, that’s it?”
It’s ultimately all about expectations. When you think “Key & Peele make their first movie,” you would think that they would go-for-broke, you expect something bigger, more ambitious, something that’ll solidify that, yes, this had to be a movie! Keanu doesn’t quite hit that highmark for me. The near-cinematic quality of the show isn’t really given a next-level upgrade, making the film seem more like a TV-movie as opposed to an actual, full-fledged theatrical release. One thing that I loved about the show was how they went out of their way to work in camera work, lighting and editing for maximum comedic effect, something that is so sorely lacking in most American comedy. So, it was disappointing to see that only really come into play in short bursts instead of the whole.
This ultimately wouldn’t be that big of an issue had the film been consistently hilarious. Those “short bursts” that I mentioned earlier, is reflective on the laughs that I had. There are a sufficient amount of jokes that land hard, but then there’s another two or three jokes around the corner that are lucky if they produced even the most pitiful chuckle. It’s essentially another case of “one joke/sketch stretched out to feature length” syndrome. Now, Keanu is definitely far better than most films that suffer from this problem, but the fact that it still shows this sign is a disheartening.
Part of why Keanu ultimately isn’t a bad movie, aside from the jokes that did actually work, is that there is a lot of smart commentary at work here. The film tackles themes such as masculinity and the perceptions of what it means to be black in America. But like with those “short bursts,” these ideas are only on the film’s mind in certain points. Granted, when the film does decide to go on these subjects, it is totally up to snuff and it works 100%. There’s no real through-line though, and while the ending is a legit great punchline, it undermines what the film seemed to be building up thematically beforehand. These ideas don’t build up to anything; they’re simply left dangling in the film’s narrative with little purpose to serve.
It sounds like I’m being extremely negative, but it’s only because I know everyone involved is capable of so much better. That Key & Peele’s first film isn’t an instant-classic comedy is a tragedy. I was hoping for something a bit more refined, a bit more well-rounded. Too much of Keanu feels like it’s on autopilot, and it’s a testament to the charm and likability of the two leads that everything still comes together despite the disjointed and slightly generic elements that surround them. Like I said, it’s not bad, it’s fine, it’s more than watchable and hopefully, a future film will allow these guys to flourish and really go places. But hey, at least that kitten is pretty darn cute! 65/100