Sunday, May 15, 2016

Keanu - Some Movies Never Find Their Audience

Keanu (2016) Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long and Will Forte. Directed by Peter Atencio. Written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens. Produced by: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Peter Principato, Paul Young, Joel Zadak. Color. USA. 98 minutes. Action, Comedy

After five years of sketch comedy on Comedy Central, the creators and actors behind Key & Peele, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, have turned their talents to the big screen. The result, Keanu, is heavy on the action and even heavier on the laughs. The film deserves both praise and its R rating.

When Rell (Jordan Peele) gets dumped by his girlfriend, no one is more relieved to hear than his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key). But into Rell’s life comes a kitten, whom he falls in love with and names Keanu, though not supposedly named after the actor, but rather the Hawaiian expression meaning "the cool breeze."

Rell (Jordan Peele) develops close ties to a kitten, Keanu.

But the cat has a past and when the 17th Street Blips, the gang made of members kicked out of the Bloods and the Crips, break into Rell’s apartment by mistake, they take the cat with them. That’s when things start to go south. Clarence, who is left alone for the weekend, tries to help Rell get the cat back, they end up being mistaken for the notorious Allentown Boys, also played by Peele and Key.

You never stop worrying about Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) and
 Rell, who always seem to be in danger throughout the film.

The film is as much about getting the cat back as it is about Clarence and Rell getting out of their comfort zones and assuming their new identities with cautious relish. And there are many times they nearly give it away as their real selves are never far below the surface.

Both leads are very funny and it is obvious that they work well together. There is a real sense that the two actors are always on the same page; no doubt a by-product from working together for a number of years on television. Unlike SNL alums, who’s films often feel like three minute sketches stretched out to an uncomfortable ninety-minutes, Keanu doesn’t lose steam throughout. I do deduct some points for it leaving itself open for an unnecessary sequel that will most likely never be made.

While the lead actors are good together, the rest of the cast is also solid. Method Man, a name I’ve seen more on credits than actually on the screen, is very menacing as Cheddar, the leader of the Blips, who often talks with a gun in one hand and Keanu the kitten in the other. Then there is the street-wise Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), Rell’s pot dealer/neighbor Hulka (Will Forte), rival drug dealer Bacon Diaz (Luis Guzman), Clarence’s wife (Nia Long) and playing what I hope is a bizarro-version of herself, Anna Farris.

Now, this is a hard R comedy. In addition to language, plenty of cursing and other, what used to be called, “inappropriate” language, there is plenty of violence. Thankfully, this is nothing we haven’t already seen before, but bullets fly and people die. Add to that, a good portion of the action takes place in an unfortunately named strip joint and you can see where the nudity comes from. I’m not pointing this out because any of it shocked me, but rather to make sure there is no question about the setting and atmosphere of the film.

But if you can get past that there is a lot of humor and a lot of laugh out loud moments. I won’t go into any of it in real detail, but a lot of the laughs revolve around Clarence’s musical selections on his iPhone, which include a healthy dose of George Michael’s 1987 Faith album. The humor, though surrounded by carnage, never really gets crude, which is a sign of writers, Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens, who know how to find humor in the situation without relying on jokes about bodily functions and fluids. Just to prove there is no escape from it, there is one moment when the film does go low for a joke, but it is really situational humor when Rell is put on the spot to one up someone and can’t think of what to say.

Keanu has been out in the theaters for only three weeks as of this review, but if our nearly empty theater is any indication, the film never seemed to find its audience. And this sometimes happens to good films. While I wouldn’t put this at the level of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), another film that never caught on like it should have, Keanu should be doing better than it is at the box-office. Films with relatively “smart” humor are so rare these days, as Hollywood seems to have an over reliance on the Adam Sandler-Seth Rogen-Judd Apatow-nothing-is-too-low-for-a-laugh school of comedy. I know we’re, sadly, long past the days of the simpler humor of Laurel and Hardy, but it’s still nice to see a film that mostly relies on a dialogue with the occasional slapstick for its laughs.

If you’re in the mood for an R-rated laugh out loud time, then I would suggest that you hurry to see Keanu before it is out of the theaters. Not a perfect film, it is hard to beat for an adult good time at the theaters.

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