If you’re not already familiar with writing/acting partners Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last few years. They met on the set of MadTV, forming an intense nerd-bond almost immediately. Their partnership gave birth to the award-winning Comedy Central program Key and Peele, which effectively put them in the center of the comedic zeitgeist. From “The Valet Guys” (What about Liam Neesons, tho?) to “Substitute Teacher” (Is A.A.Ron here?) to the EPIC “East/West College Bowl 2” (What’s cooking, Cartoons Plural?), Key and Peele developed near perfect sketches time and time again. After four seasons, they decided to move on to their first feature, Keanu, a risky proposition in its own right that they once again nail.
Written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens and directed by Peter Atencio, Keanu is the story of a brokenhearted man, Peele as Rell Williams, whose newly adopted kitten, Keanu, is stolen in a home robbery gone wrong. Believing that his sole reason for living is gone, Rell inducts his cousin Clarence, Keegan-Michael Key, into a rescue mission for the ages. Somehow these two milquetoast suburbanites must infiltrate the 17th Street Blips in order to retrieve Keanu from the leader, Cheddar (Method Man). What befalls them is hilarious, touching, and surprisingly grounded in a film that centers on a single adorable kitten.
A premise like this seems like one of the infamous Key and Peele sketches: easy setup, drive straight to a solid punch-line, cut to commercial. What makes this work as a feature is that everyone involved is committed to the concept and treats it almost dramatically at times. In a standard comedy, there’s a looseness, a flexibility, if you will, with reality. I would compare the delivery of Keanu to that of Airplane!, a classic Zucker comedy that contained ridiculous moments and dialogue, but it was all delivered with the conviction of truth. There, as in Keanu, there are no winks at the camera, no sly nods. The comedy comes from delivery and context. It’s grounded in a world that feels real and contains consequences. This is why Keanu purrs.
Though we’re headed into the summer season, I feel pretty confident calling Keanu my favorite comedy of 2016. The writing is sharp, the cast capable, and the timing tight. Keanu is likely the most anticipated comedy for early 2016, while also the most under-rated. Sketch comics don’t often translate their concepts well from short-form to long-form and that makes Key and Peele the underdogs (underkittens?). They more than rise to the occasion, providing a film that will surprise you, delight you, and have you leaving the theater wanting to watch it again for all the things you missed. What can I say, Key and Peele – they are my SHIIIIIITTTTTTTT!!!!!!
Final Score: 4 out of 5
In theaters today, Friday, April 29th.