Finally, the masterminds from Key & Peele have teamed up to create a full-length feature movie. What wildly creative shenanigans will the comedians cook up? Here’s the recipe for their movie Keanu: take a generic “fish out of water” plot, coat it in a couple good sketches from Key & Peele, mix in all of the show’s segues, add water until it’s 98 minutes, and finally, toss in an amazing tiny kitten.
Keanu is not a bad movie. It is a mostly unremarkable movie with a couple remarkable moments. The plot revolves around an adorable stolen kitten and two everymen who must crawl through the city’s crime-ridden underbelly to find it. This seems like an easy launching point for Key and Peele but the two extraordinary sketch comedians become ordinary long-form storytellers and fall into the same old tired bits you’ve seen in other average movies.
Having two regular guys having to fight gangs to get a kitten back should be an easy movie to make without falling into cliche movie traps. Since the movie is called Keanu, I have to assume the filmmakers have actually watched Keanu’s recent movies, namely John Wick.
I (perhaps unfairly) had gotten my hopes up that Keanu was going to be a sort of spoof on John Wick. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, the plot is simple: bad guys kill Keanu Reeves’s puppy so Keanu Reeves kills everybody. It’s simple. It’s great.
Keanu is not simple. There are half-baked marital issues. There is a half-baked loved story. There are half-baked scenes with half-baked jokes that leads me to believe they were all half-baked when they wrote the script… if they even wrote a script and didn’t just improvise the entire thing.
The beginning of Keanu is great. It set up the tone I was hoping to see. It was clear and concise and introduced a great setup. But then the regular part of the movie happens and whole thing crawls to a lurching stop (I’m looking at you Anna Faris’s house). The quick, fast moving pace of Key & Peele sketches gets replaced by quick-dry cement.
Sketches depend on pacing and having a great hook. What about a ninja doing an infomercial? How about a motivational speaker who lives in a van? Why does a band have a cowbell player? What if two slaves were feeling self-conscious about their low price at a plantation auction?
The last example is from an episode of Key & Peele and highlights a huge issue I have with Keanu. Sketches from Key & Peele often push a boundary or make a really strong statement through biting observation. Every episode has a sketch that makes you think, “Should I be laughing at this? Is this okay?”
There were no bold moves in Keanu. There were no scathing satires of reality. It all felt very safe. After a bunch of season pushing the envelope, Key and Peele spent and entire movie staying well within the confines they had already created, never going near the border.
It’s got to be tough for sketch comedians to create full-length movies not based on a previous property. Looking back at movies like Tommy Boy and Happy Gilmore, you remember that those movies aren’t actually very good. They’re very funny (for the most part) but usually lack anything that could be considered good film making.
The bulk of these “classic” comedies came out in the ’90s so obviously my age is going to play a big part. I’m sure I wouldn’t actually like a lot of the movies I liked back then if I saw them for the first time now. So a young teenager might actually love Keanu. But the generic schlock that’s used to fill the comedy gaps isn’t going to cut it for me anymore, not when other comedies are pushing boundaries and creating new ideas.
But to be fair, Keanu is a great movie whenever the kitten is on screen. We have never seen an action movie that stars a kitten and the filmmakers create some really good action bits with the kitten. Unfortunately, the bulk of the movie does not feature action or the kitten. And that’s the most frustrating part. Key and Peele got upstaged by a cat. Nothing was as interesting in Keanu as Keanu. And he just wasn’t in it enough.