Despite being the focus of everything about the movie, the titular feline of Keanu could seriously have stood some more screentime than what he has here. It’s a tale of gangsters and catnip, of cats and drugs.
As high concept low-to-middle-grade R-rated comedies go, Keanu is leaps and bounds beyond its lamer brethren (i.e. Let’s Be Cops). But it isn’t going to be the breakout big screen adventure that the beloved duo of Key & Peele rightfully deserve.
When we first meet Rell (Jordan Peele, also serving as co-screenwriter) he has been dumped by his long-term girlfriend. We find him despondent on the couch, taking hits off the bong and shunning the outside world. A small scratch at the door opens to reveal the eponymous kitten, who Rell (and every person in the audience) immediately falls in love with. Just as Rell’s life appears to be on the upswing, his house is ransacked and Keanu is abducted. With the help of his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), Rell traces the kitten trail to an outcast gang in the rough part of town. In order to get Keanu back, the two have to put on the façade that they’re an infamous killing combination known as the Allentown Brothers in an attempt to lower the guard of Keanu’s catnapper, a gangster named Cheddar (Method Man).
When it comes to a movie like Keanu, it first and foremost matters whether or not the film succeeds at its intention to produce laughter. I, for one, found the film to be outrageously hilarious at times and more consistently giggle-worthy throughout than originally anticipated. However, the bare stretches devoid of laughter emphasize the movie’s shortcomings.
Director Peter Atencio showcases a real affinity for the action film classics that inspired him. The opening scene of the movie is a particularly well-executed setpiece that kicks off the proceedings on a high note. Atencio’s aptitude for telling a joke effectively serves the film well sometimes even despite his inept dramatic pacing. The screenplay also tacks on about one too many gang families and the movie could stand to lose a good 10 minutes or so; even for a movie ostensibly about a man and his cat, gluttony abounds.
There are an unfortunate number of instances where scenes and gags run just a little bit too long. As Rell and Clarence maintain their Allentown cover while going deeper into the drug trade, they hit the streets with Cheddar’s crew (which includes a young thug played by Jason Mitchell, best known as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton). As they hit the corners and make house calls to off kilter celebrities, the film begins to severely overcompensate for its relatively earthbound aspirations. Some scenes wear out their welcome minutes before their merciful end. With such funny people involved in every corner of the production, it’s a shame that so many weak payoffs aren’t worth the excruciating setup.
Keanu’s weakest moments, however, are still ultimately outnumbered by the surrounding sections that work phenomenally well, mainly due to the chemistry between Key & Peele and the magnetic energy they emit when working together in maximum harmony. These are two very funny guys, and it would be fantastic to see them together in something on the big screen again soon.
There’s been an affection for Keanu growing inside me since seeing the film, and I have a feeling it could be a low stakes comedy that will be easy to revisit and enjoy months and years down the road. Those familiar with the comedy stylings of the Key & Peele team are likely well prepared for what to expect (for the most part). The uninitiated still stand a solid chance at enjoying the movie and walking away having spent more time laughing than not. Damn near everyone in the world, however, is going to sing the praises of Keanu (the cat). That little guy is adorable and Keanu might become the ideal Netflix comedy comfort flick for the greyest of days.
Three and a half shotgun shells packed with catnip out of five!