"Keanu needs you. I need you."
So sketch comedy has rarely translated brilliantly to the big screen, it’s a simple fact. As a sketch artist the main problem you are likely to face is that of timing, more so than any other comedian. You have to select premises that will be humorous for about five minutes and only five minutes, any shorter and the audience will lose interest in the sketch, if the joke appears to be something that would still be funny five minutes and ten seconds later an audience may feel unsatisfied with the sketch, wanting more. To create an entire film when your forte is making people laugh for five minutes at a time is an arduous task.
Recently dumped by his girlfriend, slacker Rell (Jordan Peele) finds some happiness when a cute kitten winds up on his doorstep. After a heartless thief steals the cat, Rell recruits his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) to help him retrieve it.
As I said before, sketch comedy rarely translates well as a feature film, but ‘Keanu’ is one of those rare exceptions. It is somewhat uneven and not entirely cohesive, jumping from one location to another to accommodate more jokes than efficient storytelling. But here is why it works, the jokes are genuinely funny. There is nothing more painful than a comedy film like this where every joke falls flat, where you have to sit through the awkward pauses where the filmmakers assumed people would be laughing but are instead filled with silence. Instead ‘Keanu’ is a wonderfully entertaining treat.
If you are fans of Key and Peele’s other work outside of the big screen then this film will deliver exactly what you would want it to. It lives and dies with their performances and comedic talent. It highlights many of the duo’s strengths, their chemistry, versatility and the ability to be both uptight and loose at the same time. There is also a hint of that glorious, subversive nature that they adopted within so many of their sketches. In the space of 96 minutes it becomes hard to sustain that subversive nature but it crops up from time to time, playing with stereotypes and social boundaries, being smart at times but also crude.
A good comedian plays to their strengths and Key and Peele seem to have recognised, very early on, that as far as movies are concerned, their chemistry is their strength. They are rarely not on screen together and that proves to be a good decision as they are absolutely fantastic together, bouncing off the walls and each other consistently and continuously. The premise itself gives them plenty of opportunities to do that and is absurd enough for their own ridiculousness to fit perfectly within this world. But again they are smart enough to throw in a few nods towards the more uncomfortable topics of our culture, it’s nothing ground breaking but it is refreshing to see a satirical edge to these kind of comedies.
However that does not necessarily mean this is a thinking man’s comedy, in fact many of the jokes are so light they risk floating away, something that I would laugh at while watching but not necessarily remember or quote weeks later. None of the characters really have that much depth so when the film attempts to evoke some kind of emotional impact it doesn’t feel earned. Instead of emotion we get numerous slow motion action scenes that are played for comedic effect, but ultimately feel overused. Although I must admit seeing the titular cat Keanu (who is actually voiced by Keanu Reeves during a hallucinogenic drug trip) running through these scenes of violence, his cuteness contrasting to the brutality around him.
In fact where the film puts aside its other elements in favour of action is where it begins to crumble somewhat. The moments in which it favours action over comedy are where ‘Keanu’ seems to forget where its strengths are. It also doesn’t really work on a serious level as there are too many plot holes and unresolved stories to hope that an audience that’s actually invested in the story could ever take this seriously. But then again it is a comedy so is that even a relevant criticism?
It may not be deep or exquisitely crafted, but ‘Keanu’ is fairly certain to make you laugh, and at the end of the day isn’t that all you really want from a comedy?