Director: Peter Atencio
Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
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Sketch comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele finally get themselves a big screen vehicle and, with no apparent vanity whatsoever, they let themselves be upstaged by an adorable grey tabby cat. Before we see either of the main characters, we’re treated to a prologue in which the titular moggy runs through a bloody warehouse massacre in slow-motion, like he’s the hero of a John Woo film.
This sets the tone nicely for an affectionate parody of LA crime movies and, especially, the work of Michael Mann. The little kitten runs all the way to Rell (Peele), and goes some distance towards mending his heart after a recent break-up. He dubs the cat Keanu, little realising that his new pet has complex connections in Los Angeles’ criminal underworld. Keanu is cat-napped after burglars mistakenly rob him instead of his drug-dealing neighbour (Will Forte) and, with the help of his strait-laced cousin, Clarence (Peele), Rell vows to go to any lengths to get his beloved pet back.
It’s a one-joke premise that unexpectedly proves to have infinite punchlines and pay-offs throughout its 100-minute running time. This kind of mistaken identity comedy has been done to death, but by coming at it from a number of different angles, this never feels as hackneyed or contrived as something like Let’s Be Cops.
Moreover, the assumed whiteness of the two suburban black protagonists is an unexpectedly rich source of comedy, especially in the running joke about the George Michael-heavy soundtrack. Both Key and Peele are versatile actors and that plays nicely into Clarence and Rell’s feeble ploys to impersonate two hardened criminals – their caricatured imitations of the fearsome Allentown boys are easily as funny as their frequent collapses into hysteria the second they’re alone together.
But the freshness of this as a genre parody is, at least in part, due to the sheer breadth of cinematic literacy that director Peter Atencio and writers Peele and Alex Rubens bring to the table. Atencio actually captures the style of a film Woo or Mann would make and, impressively for a studio comedy, it never looks less than authentic.
However, while it navigates certain clichés expertly, it walks slap-bang into others. One aspect of the Mann/Woo movies that it didn’t really need to carry over is a lousy attitude towards women, including Rell’s absent ex-girlfriend and Clarence’s wife (Nia Long), who are either called every name under the sun or otherwise mistrusted. Likewise, the climactic car chase feels like a betrayal of the comedic stakes up to that point. It’s not so depressingly predictable in any other regard, so it’s a shame that Keanu goes blindly into these particular areas.
The result essentially takes on the entire sub-genre of LA crime with an extended cute cat video. Key and Peele’s debut feature has all of the pop culture savvy of their sketch show, as well as an understanding of the universal quality of George Michael’s discography on its side. If nothing else, you’ll come away wanting to see more Key and Peele movies in the future, as was the case with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s transition from Channel 4’s Spaced to the big screen. Keanu is no Shaun Of The Dead, but it’s unmistakably their own and we’d like more of that.
Keanu is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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