Proving there is life after a highly successful TV series for a comedy duo with an undying love for ’80s action cinema, Keanu is a one-of-a-kind film that needs to be seen to be believed.
Rell (Jordan Peele) is a lovable stoner recovering from a recent breakup when he discovers an adorable kitten at his front door. He bonds with the animal almost immediately, naming him Keanu because he thinks it means something sweet in Hawaiian, and soon begins to find value in a world that had appeared pointless in the wake of returning to the life of a bachelor. That happiness is short lived, however, as Keanu soon goes missing following a home invasion. Rell feels worse than he did prior to meeting his furry soulmate, but decides he and his best friend, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), have the skills needed to find and recover the creature.
What Rell and Clarence don’t know at the onset of the story is just how sought after the kitten known as Keanu has become during his short life. Before arriving on Rell’s door, Keanu was owned by a drug kingpin named Diaz who was murdered by two siblings known on the street as the Allentown brothers. The brothers originally intended on raising Keanu themselves, but that plan was quickly ruined by a chance encounter with the police. The man responsible for Keanu’s disappearance from Rell’s house, Cheddar (Method Man), is not connected to either of these groups, but he is equally villainous in his own right. Cheddar serves as the leader for a gang comprised of former members of the Bloods and Crips that call themselves the Blips, and he has no intention of returning the kitten—which he has named New Jack—to Rell or anyone else.
It doesn’t take long for Rell and Clarence to find themselves in places and situations neither one has ever experienced outside of a multiplex, but fortunately for them their vast knowledge of action cinema has provided them with just enough know-how to navigate their unusual surroundings. Together they strike a deal to help Cheddar in exchange for Keanu, but nothing is as simple as it seems. Before long the bodies are piling up, drugs are everywhere, and even more outsiders begin to take an interest in what could be argued as the world’s most adorable cat. Rell and Clarence remain focused however, and with a little inspiration from the music George Michael they push forward in hopes of bringing Keanu home.
There is no hiding the fact Keanu is pretty much a feature-length Key & Peele skit, but that is most likely what people who would pay to support a movie about two guys fighting gangsters to save a cat would expect and want. Diehards fans of the TV series may even pick up on a few loose callbacks to characters and sketches from the duo’s popular Comedy Central series, such as a sequence that plays like a spiritual sequel to the over-excited bellhops who love Liam Neeson films, but nothing is so referential that those unfamiliar with the pair’s small screen work will feel alienated. In that way, Keanu simultaneously feels like a continuation of the show and something else altogether. The humor comes at you from every angle, with quippy dialogue, erratic physical comedy and a plethora of sight gags that leave you feeling as if you need to see the film twice just to appreciate how much comedy is packed into every sequence. There is also a lot of heart, and it’s not tacked on as an afterthought, but rather leveraged to help keep the story grounded.
If there is any kind of movie deity who can control the future of Hollywood, I pray they let Key and Peele make whatever they want from now on because Keanu is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. It’s an entirely original concept that pays homage to a ridiculous period in cinema history while never feeling like it’s relying on old ideas to propel its narrative forward. Any belief that the duo exhausted their creativity on their long-running show is proven false almost as soon as the film begins, and by the time the credits roll you’re left pleading to the screen in front of you for just a few more minutes to spend with Rell, Clarence and Keanu. I imagine people will be revisiting this film for years to come, myself included, and we will be collectively quoting it for even longer. Keanu is the best comedy of the year so far, and I find it hard to believe anything will top it before 2017.