Keanu (2016)

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I’ve had a motto all my life – a film is made exponentially better by the presence of a cat or a dog in the film. I’ve seen some animals give better performances than their human co-stars. Now imagine my delight when I discovered the existence of Keanu, a film that is centered around a little kitten, and an adorable one at that? Nevermind that the film is the feature-film debut for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the modern equivalent to Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello, and have brought so much originality to the modern landscape of comedy. What further proof do you need to their brilliance than the fact that they made a film where the main character is a kitten? Not a talking, anthropomorphic cat, but a kitten that does kitten things, like run around and scratch people. Keanu has one of the stupidest premises in any film I’ve ever seen, yet it executes it with such wonderful enthusiasm, it is impossible not to adore it.

Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) was recently dumped by his girlfriend. At his lowest moments, he encounters a small kitten (the titular Keanu) who literally shows up on his doorstep. His cousin, Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key) is equally as captivated by the new addition to the family, and Rell is given a new lease of life. However, some drug dealers break into his home, and kidnap Keanu, leading Rell and Clarence on a mission to retrieve their stolen cat, and they plunge themselves deeply into the sleazy underworld of strip clubs, dealing drugs and murder, all for the sake of getting back what is theirs – a common premise in many films, but in many films, the protagonists risk their life and limb for a child or relative. Rell and Clarence risk everything for a small cat. There is absolutely nothing else to say, and there is absolutely no twist to this film – the characters actually go from being normal, upstanding members of society to twisted drug-dealers and vicious murderers, all for the intention of saving a cat. The animal lover side in me adores this premise and wholeheartedly agrees to the message – whereas the logical side of me agrees that this has one of the most absurd premises out of nearly any film I have ever seen.

Screw logic. This film was absolutely hilarious.

It only seems natural that popular comedic performers transition to film at some point, and the more popular you get from your television work, the more likely you are to get a film. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have proven themselves to be comedic geniuses, and through their work on Key & Peele, they showed superb ability to play interesting and diverse characters, and of course displayed their remarkable chemistry. The cinema was made for their talents, and it was only a matter of time. It turns out, when that time came, they chose the most absurd premise possible, which fits in perfectly with their sensibilities – keep in mind that (and forgive me if this is a reductive example), the first foray into mainstream film for the Monty Python troop wasn’t a straightforward social comedy that British cinema was used to, but an equally absurd film about a group of knights searching for the Holy Grail. That film is now a masterpiece, and while I am not implying Keanu will become a masterpiece, it has to be said that the concept of doing something bold and off-the-wall is exactly what we all expected from the film debut of Key and Peele, wasn’t it?

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele prove their strangely charismatic movie star qualities in Keanu. Peele is the relatively normal, straight man protagonist, which fits him well. He has quite a few moments of inspired insanity, but he mainly operates as the main protagonist, where most of the comedic heavy lifting (at least individually) is the responsibility of Key, who has some of the most bizarrely hilarious moments in the film. However, most of the comedy comes from the fact that these two have some of the most amazing chemistry out of any duo in comedy history, and their flawless rapport brings about some truly magical comedy. This film is pretty much only worth it for the two leads (and the cat), because the rest of the cast isn’t memorable or noteworthy – Method Man is good as Cheddar, the drug-dealing crime boss, and Luis Guzmán (one of the most hard-working character actors of the past two decades) has a hilarious extended cameo near the end. The rest of the cast is serviceable – but I am pretty sure no one turned up to watch this film because of Tiffany Haddish (who also does a very good job). There is a wonderful cameo that seems obvious, but is actually a pleasant surprise – but I’ll keep that for anyone who watches the film.

Keanu is a great film – adorable, quirky and hilarious to a fault. The two leads have such amazing chemistry, and despite being in one of the strangest and most absurd films of the year, they make it something wonderful. Keanu is certainly the very best film to feature an incredibly violent gang war, set to George Michael’s “Father Figure”, that much I know. I think Keanu, while not one of the best films of the year, is certainly one of the most entertaining, and quite frankly most original, films of the year. I thought it was fantastic. 2016 is turning into a very strong year for cinema, and this is a great addition to an already overstuffed and interesting year for film.

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