Peer deep within your soul. Understand what kind of Key and Peele fan you are. Because if the East/West College Bowl, Obama Anger Translator Luther, or the valets whose heads explode over “Liam Neesons” are strictly your jam, then Keanu may not be. If, however, you embrace the pair’s more strangely ludicrous, high-concept fare, then settle in.
Jordan Peele plays Rell, adrift about being recently dumped by his girlfriend. Keegan-Michael Key is his cousin, Clarence, whose wife is conveniently out of town for the weekend. Nothing appears to lift Rell’s spirits until a sweet little kitty appears on his doorstep. Rell names him Keanu, and a love is born that is as boundless as it is obsessive. (Entirely understandable – that darn cat is way cute.)
All is light and beauty in this fixation until there’s a break-in at Rell’s place, and the cat goes missing. After a consultation with Hulka (Will Forte), the low-level dope-slinger next door, it seems a local gang may have absconded with Rell’s four-pawed buddy. Obviously, the next logical step is for Rell and Clarence to pretend they’re drug dealers to get the cat back. It’s what anyone would do.
It’s around then that Keanu really starts to build steam, as the nerdy cousins try to impersonate a couple of killers known as the Allentown brothers (also played by Key and Peele). The jokes work on multiple levels, as the comedians toy with stereotypes about what it means to be hardcore dudes whose chief preoccupation is the return of an itty bitty city kitty.
But – and I say this as an unabashed Key and Peele fan – that’s just about the only joke. The fellas just find new and creative ways to keep telling it for the length of the film. Which isn’t it to say it doesn’t work. There are some inspired moments as they’re forced to go deeper into the inner workings of the gang, led by Cheddar (Method Man), who seems to share a deep affection for the kidnapped cat. Tiffany Haddish also delivers as Hi-C, Cheddar’s most effective thug, on whom Rell might be developing a wee bit of a crush.
It’s all engaging, if not consistently hilarious, and does land in an unexpected place. Perhaps the most satisfying element, though, is seeing novice filmmakers (Peele co-wrote the script with former Key and Peele writer Alex Rubens, and Key and Peele both have producer credits on the film) make a movie that seems to be exactly what they were going for. And if the next one brings more of the crying-we’re-laughing-so-hard comedy, that will be all the better.