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Keanu ••1/2

Keanu_posterStarring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish
Director: Peter Atencio
Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens
Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2016


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I think the Matrix has me – did I just see a movie about Keanu Reeves?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No, Greg, this is a film about a good cat and some bad cats. Let’s re-cat — I mean recap.

We meet Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) who was just dumped by his girlfriend. Just when he was in the depths of despair, he finds a kitten on his doorstep who he immediately names “Keanu.” His best friend and cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) drops by to console him and is also smitten with the young feline.

It turns out that Keanu belonged to the gang leader of a Mexican drug cartel who was killed by an intimidating pair of killers called the Allentown Boys. Another gang leader named Cheddar (Method Man) abducts Keanu while ransacking Rell’s apartment which is next-door to his drug dealer Hulka (Will Forte). Rell and Clarence pay a visit to Cheddar, who mistakes the men for the Allentown Boys. He’ll only return the cat to them if they perform one dangerous job for him.

Let’s face it, this is not the stuff of great drama. Instead, it’s a platform for two of the hottest comedians in show business right now – Key and Peele. And they bring their particular brand of comedy to the big screen in a ridiculously simple premise – everyone is smitten with the kitten. And it should be no shock as the most watched videos on YouTube.com are videos of kittens.

It’s hilarious to see some of the the hardest core bad guys lay down their fortunes and their lives for the love of Keanu. Our two heroes are about as nerdy as one can get. So it’s only natural that they might wade into dangerous waters to save their feline. But then gang leader “Chedda” latches on to the miniature manx, things get funny. Our two suburban nerds must put on the airs of hard-core gangstas in order to win the trust of the kingpin. This leads to a series of jokes about stereotypes of gang life which I found hilarious.

I found the movie to be not terribly funny, Greg. Do you remember that scene in Airplane when Barbara Billingsley pretends to speak like a tough male African-American? This movie resurrects this old joke and milks it for over 90 minutes. Yes, we know that Rell and Clarence are not bad-asses and that they must act and talk like “gangstas” in order to find the cat. But this movie forgets that the Barbara Billingsley joke worked because we heard it only once. Here it gets old fast. This entire story is a one-joke pony that exposes Keanu’s creatively bereft writing team.

But it also calls out the cliches we see in buddy cop movies. The undercover guys must mix it up with the cold-hard gangstas. A running gag is Clarence’s love of George Michaels and Wham. Clarence is in a tight spot and must bond with the uneducated gangstas. So he convinces them that Michaels is also a hard core gangsta and his “Father Figure” song is about not having a father. The gangstas weep and get George Michaels tattoos. And there’s a fantastic drug-induced reimagining of Michaels’ “Faith”  music video. I was rolling in the aisle (RITA?).

And there is a beautiful girl that Rell falls for. Only to find out she’s a cop and everything that has happened to them was a set up to capture the drug-dealing gangstas. It’s such a typical plot line and Key and Peele hyped it to perfection.

None of this impressed me, Greg. I’m not saying there weren’t a few jokes that worked. The gimmick of ordinary guys having to act tough was fun for a short while. It wore thin for me, as the did the gimmick of the cute kitten eluding danger repeatedly. We know that the kitten will never be harmed because moviegoers would find any harm to a kitten to be unacceptable. So the only issue holding my interest centered on whether Rell and Clarence could pull off their subterfuge. Their adventure is rife with improbable silliness, and really the only thing saving their necks is the comedy genre in which this film operates.

In terms of a hero’s journey, our two buddy heroes do go on the classic journey and help each other transform. The adventure of recovering the cat helps Rell evolve from a person on the brink of suicide to a person with a mission and a reason to live. Clarence’s evolution is a bit more subtle but we do witness him become a stronger person. There’s not much positive mentoring to speak of, unless you count Liam Neeson whose movie our two heroes watch on the eve of their adventure.

Keanu is a fun movie and the debut for Key and Peele. I enjoyed myself for a couple hours. I loved the George Michaels references and the nerds-as-tough-guys schtick. However, as much as it pains me to agree with you, Scott, there really isn’t much more to enjoy here. You either like this sort of thing or you don’t. I did, but I hope the duo’s next outing is a bit more sophisticated. I give Keanu 3 out of 5 Reels for average entertainment value.

There is a nice little buddy story here. There’s growth for both of our heroes. But, as we have seen in other comedies, the hero’s journey plays second fiddle to yucks. I can only give 2 out of 5 Heroes to Rell and Clarence.

And I suffer to agree with you again, Scott. There are no true mentors in this story. Keanu is merely a McGuffin, as Hitchcock would say. And while the fearless feline draws our heroes into the world of gangsta rap, he surely did not coach them in the ways of the underworld. Alas, Rell and Clarence seem to draw upon film depictions of stereotypical drug dealers to fuel their knowledge of their special world. I can only muster 1 out of 5 Mentors for this film.

Movie: reel-3Heroes: h-logo-2Mentors: mentor1

Keanu is a mildly funny movie about two decent, goofy guys who find themselves way in over their heads among criminal mobsters. The story is built around two gimmicks that grow old quickly. One plot device requires our two squeaky clean heroes to act like gangstas, and the other device relies on a cute viral-on-youtube kitten to string along our heroes. This movie isn’t terrible but I won’t be giving it a second look. I award it 2 Reels out of 5.

Our two protagonists are buddy heroes who help each other accomplish the mission and grow as individuals. There is too much goofiness in this comedy for the hero’s journey to be taken too seriously, and so I can only award 2 Heroes out of 5 to these two guys. Because the hero’s journey is taken lightly by the filmmakers, there isn’t much mentoring so speak of. As such a Mentor rating of 1 out of 5 seems right to me, too, Greg.

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