Madison Gallup ’18 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor
After watching Keanu, the first feature film from Keegan-Michel Key and Jordan Peele, anyone should be tempted to discover more of what the comedic duo has to offer. Hopefully audience members follow their instinct, because Keanu just scratches the surface of some of the most important and hilarious subjects Key and Peele explore in their sketches. That isn’t to say that the film does not have a depth to its humor. In fact, Keanu has the capacity to initiate many conversations that people typically avoid. Still, in its hour and forty minute running time, Keanu also finds time to honor some classic action/thriller movies and gratuitously showcase one of the cutest kittens to hit the big screen in quite some time.
The premise of Keanu is suitably ridiculous. When Rell (Jordan Peele) is dumped by his girlfriend, he sinks further into his lazy, stoner tendencies. His edge and creative spark is brought back by- you guessed it- a precious kitten showing up on his door step. He names his new muse, Keanu, and proceeds to create some wonderful movie parody calendar photos with Keanu as the central model. Meanwhile, Rell’s cousin, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) struggles to maintain the spark in his marriage which is suffering due to his high-strung personality. When Keanu is kidnapped, Rell calls on Clarence to help him get his kitten back. When it turns out that a gang, led by the infamous Cheddar (Method Man) is responsible for taking Keanu, Rell and Clarence find themselves pretending to be the Allentown brothers- a pair of killers with a reputation for pulling off a huge drug raid- in order to negotiate a way to get Keanu back.
Throughout the film, a recurring joke is the way Clarence and- to a lesser extent- Rell have to change their voices in order to be taken seriously by the team of drug dealers they must lead. Fans of Key & Peele will recall this theme being explored in their stand-up called “White- Sounding Black Guys,” where Peele states “we sound whiter than Mitt Romney in a snow storm.” and the pair goes on to demonstrate how they have to “dial up” their blackness in certain situations. Many of the most comic moments in Keanu come from this exploration of what is expected of a black person when they interact with other black people versus members of another race. Even Peele’s white drug dealer, Hulka (Will Forte) phones in a strange take on the “black” persona for his clients.
Perhaps the funniest joke in the film revolves around Clarence’s musical taste- specifically his passion for the stylings of George Michael. At one point in the film, Clarence is in the car with several of Cheddar’s drug dealers. They turn on the music he had been playing on his phone most recently, and- sure enough- George Michael’s “Father Figure” comes blasting through the radio. Clarence’s response is to convince the other men that they should also embrace George Michaels as someone who puts his suffering into meaningful and catchy songs. He cleverly avoids mentioning that Michaels is a white, gay singer (and nobody else in the car catches on to this at all). This joke again touches on the expectations for a black man, as well as themes of masculinity in general.
Audiences might be drawn into Keanu because of its clever marketing (the kitten has been integrated into some of the most popular recent movie posters), or because they want to laugh, but they will leave with a better understanding of the kind of comedians Key and Peele are. Soon, a whole new group of people- Taken and kitten lovers alike- will be hankering for new material from this innovative and hilarious duo.
Overall Grade: B+
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