Keanu – Review (***)

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Keanu

Comic duo Key and Peele make a suitably boisterous transition to the big-screen with this demented and fitfully funny – if decidedly uneven – gangster comedy that does at least enough to distinguish it from the countless would-be-Shane Blacks out there.

Rell (Jordan Peele) falls into a depressed funk after his girlfriend dumps him, but this all changes when a stray cat, which he subsequently names Keanu, shows up on his doorstep. As the two bond and Rell’s buddy Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) helps cheer him up, they return to Rell’s home to discover that Keanu has been kidnapped. The pair will need to pose as drug dealers in order to get Keanu back from his new owner, a gang leader named Cheddar (Method Man).

It’s an outlandish premise and one which the pair, along with director Peter Atencio, tackle head-on, leaning into the silliness while accepting that the movie’s focal crime plot is ultimately fairly inconsequential window-dressing for a host of zany scenarios.

It’s worth commenting from the outset that if you’re seeing the movie solely for the bizarre juxtaposition of a cute cat and gunfire, the pint-sized feline is in fact a rather small aspect of the film, as though the filmmakers themselves didn’t want to exploit the cat for an easy buck (cemented by a self-reflexive line about the kitty in the film itself). Sure, the cat steals practically every scene he’s in, but there are frequent gulfs of screen time where he is totally absent.

Still, Key and Peele make for an engaging goofball duo as ever, cranking the social commentary up to 11 and riffing on “blackness” to mostly-fun effect. It might end up feeling a little more one-note as the pic drags on, but the pair typically know just when the joke’s getting stale and when to move on.

Comedy outside of this is more hit-and-miss; there’s a lot of shouting and swearing, only some of which actually elicits laughs, and this does result in occasional scenes that are both dramatically inert (because the crime narrative is so limp) and almost totally laughless too.

On the whole, though, it’s full of enough surreal affectations to make it worth a sit, even if something approaching a “black Shane Black movie” was absolutely within reach. It’s almost there, and that’s just fine too.

***

Keanu is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas July 15th

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