It’s about damn time that Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele got a movie. And, wouldn’t you know it, Keanu could stand as a treatise on code-switching, disguised as an action comedy built around an adorable kitten.
Sure, Clarence (Key) plays like a black version of Will Ferrell’s well-meaning stepdad character from Daddy’s Home, with an phone full of George Michael. And sure, Rell (Peele) is a photographer who talks like John Ritter and collapses into a depression where nothing makes sense anymore after his girlfriend leaves him. And yes, they both have big, anime-eyed giggling fits when the cutest kitten ever shows up on Rell’s doorstep.
But when the 17th Street Blips mistakenly raid Rell’s suburban house instead of his dealer’s (Will Forte), these two have to go recover their new pet. But that means going into a very different context, and behaving in a very different way than they do at home. The gang leader, Cheddar (Method Man), has adopted Keanu as his own, and Clarence and Rell don’t feel like they can ask for their cat back in the same voices they use when checking out at Whole Foods.
So they go blustering in and let themselves be mistaken for a couple gang assassins (also played by Key and Peele in very different costumes) that just laid waste to a rival drug operation. Cheddar says he’ll let them have the cat if they ride along with one of his crews on a job delivering the gang’s new drug to a customer up in the Hollywood Hills, which only puts them into closer quarters with a group that already don’t quite trust the way they act.
As usual, Peele is the subtler of the pair. Emotionally, the movie follows his arc as he recovers from having been dumped and develops new feelings for Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish). Key gets more laughs, though, as he defends his nerdy suburbanite trappings to Trunk, Bud, and Stitches (Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell, and Jamar Malachi Neighbors). Like why is a stone-cold killer driving a minivan, and who’s this George Michael guy? Personally, I’m always more drawn to Key, but they’re both doing great work here.
Most crucially, long-time Key & Peele director Peter Atencio gets the movie up to speed and keeps it running at a swift clip. Even when a given bit or gag falls short, you’re probably still riding out the last one, and there’s another one coming along right after. It never feels quite overstuffed, but it keeps up a pace and excitement that helps it ride out any rough patches without ruining the vibe. It’s only at the end — always the Achilles heel for any writers coming out of a sketch comedy background — where things don’t quite seem to know how to wind down and come to rest again.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.