We gave it a B-
For five seasons, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele tackled everything from pop culture parodies to commentaries on racial prejudice with their critically-acclaimed TV show Key & Peele. Now, they’re taking their partnership to the big screen with the occasionally sloppy but frequently hilarious Keanu, starring alongside one very tiny but very charismatic kitten.
Longtime K&P writer Alex Rubens penned the film with Peele, who stars as Rell, a heartbroken stoner wallowing in his own misery after being ditched by his girlfriend. His savior appears in the form of a life-changingly adorable kitten, who he dubs “Keanu.” “I think it means ‘cool breeze’ in Hawaiian,” he tells his cousin Clarence (Key). Unfortunately, Rell and Keanu’s happiness is short-lived, as a group of notorious drug dealers known as the Blips (the guys who got kicked out of the Bloods and the Crips) break into Rell’s house and catnap poor Keanu. As a result, the decidedly suburban Rell and Clarence pose as a pair of bloodthirsty thugs to infiltrate the Blips and steal back their fuzzy friend.
In some ways, Keanu feels like a special extended episode of Key and Peele. There are the relentless pop culture references (George Michael’s music plays a big role), the commentaries on black masculinity and code-switching, and even a few callbacks to specific K&P sketches. (Before all the murder and mayhem, Rell and Clarence head to the movies to see “Liam Neesons” in Substitute Teacher, referencing two of Key and Peele’s most popular sketches and the duo’s enduring love of the Taken star.) Peter Atencio, who directed nearly every episode of Key and Peele, makes his feature directorial debut with Keanu, and although the film’s bigger budget means a few more explosions and slow-mo shootouts, it doesn’t look all that different from the highly stylized and cinematic K&P.
Thanks to Key and Peele’s top-notch comedic chemistry, the jokes are more hit than miss, including a psychotic cameo by a female star and a trippy, self-referential voiceover by Keanu Reeves himself. Less innovative is Keanu’s predictable storyline, which meanders and gets lost in unnecessary subplots. What made Key and Peele the TV show so brilliant was how it felt like nothing else on television. Keanu has its clever (and adorable) premise, but the rest feels like your standard action-comedy, and even at one hour and 38 minutes, things start to drag towards the finish line (especially when Keanu himself isn’t on screen).
Even if it can’t compete with the best highlights from their TV show, Keanu is a solid first step into movie stardom for both Key and Peele. But the true breakout stars are the seven fluffy kittens who played the movie’s namesake. There may not be an Academy Award for Best Supporting Feline Actor, but if there was, the Oscar would most definitely go to Keanu. B-