Directed by Peter Atencio.
Starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Tiffany Haddish, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, Will Forte and Jason Mitchell.
Two nerdy cousins pose as notorious gangsters to infiltrate the criminal underworld in order to retrieve a stolen kitten.
The main trio behind this film – the two leads Jordan Peele and Kegan-Michael Key, and its director Peter Atencio – mark their first big-screen collaborative effort here, a significant departure from their previous sketch-off TV outing of Key & Peele, to produce an action comedy that hinges on a silly premise. Keanu may retain the teams chemistry, but their small—screen past cannot mask some of their shortcomings.
In an explosive opening sequence, one that calls back to 90s John Woo action films, the audience witness the efficiency of two long-haired assassins known as the Allentown Boys, who decimate a Mexican drug operation. The Allentown Boys appear to also be attracted to a particular kitten owned by drug boss King Diaz. The kitten manages to escape this carnage, and finds solace in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Arriving at Rell’s (Jordan Peele) home, the kitten’s aura strikes an instant bond him who calls the kitten Keanu. In one adorable scene Rell photographs Keanu posing in various film tableaus to make a personalised calendar. One night while Rell is out watching a Liam Neeson action film with his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), a break-in occurs at his home, and Keanu is nowhere to be found.
This thematic emphasis on pop culture and Hollywood cinema marks this film as a nirvana-lite for cinephiles: think of a (visually) restrained Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim versus the World). Unabashed in genre convention the film is permitted to convey some impressive and well-choreographed action set pieces. This distills itself into the film’s characters as Rell and Clarence’s nerdy-cum-gangster facade is one that derives from their understanding of NWA lyrics, and the broad portrayal of African-American characters in cinema.
Both Rell and Clarence are comfortable in their quasi-middle-class lifestyles, but when they infiltrate the criminal underworld, they must don these thuggish personas, and to play up to popular racial stereotypes. As they sway from their personas when addressing criminals like Cheddar (Method Man) and Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) to their suburban selves, one can see the chemistry between the two leads. They bounce off each other with such ease; they have lengthy, yet disciplined, chats about this-that-whatever; and, despite the lack of laugh-out-loud moments, they are a delight to watch with chucklesome observations and quips.
As the plot unfolds and the duo finds themselves in evermore ludicrous situations, the gags become stunted. Their sketch TV past manifest onto the screen as narrative padding makes way for comedic progress. Too often a situational-joke e.g. Clarence, as his gangster persona, teaches some underlings of Cheddars crew the “street” cred of George Michael, which soon runs out of steam. What saves these moments is the charming cast, who take their characters to the nth degree where it borders on self-parody (Method Man’s Cheddar is clearly a riff on his Cheese character in The Wire).
Keanu is not without its flaws, but it is the charming duo at the helm that marks this a surprisingly fun and chucklesome experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★