Director: Peter Atencio
Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish
Spoilers Within: Yes
If you somehow weren’t already aware, Key and Peele are massive stateside. Their self-titled sketch show – which ran from 2012 – 2015 with five full seasons on a major comedy network – possessed characters that have garnered their own fanbase and meme status; they’ve had roles – both solo and as a duo – in popular TV, including a large amount of voice work in long-running animated series (Archer and Bob’s Burgers to name two); and they won the Peabody award in 2014 which celebrates meritorious talent across radio and television (and were nominated in a dozen more categories over the years).
And yet, their bizarro brand of absurdist comedy still hasn’t fully enraptured UK audiences as well as – say – Jay and Silent Bob; or Harold and Kumar have done. If you watch Keanu with unfamiliarity toward their show, you might have a better time: sketch-characters’ idiosyncrasies inevitably crop up in Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele)’s conversation (eg: the mispronunciation of famous action stars’ names; the ridiculous monikers they choose: ‘Shark Tank’ and ‘Tectonic’), which sends the jokes careening in either direction depending on your level of knowledge of their work. What could be seen as little easter eggs to some, simply reminded me that I was watching a prolonged sketch, that soon became more unfunny as it went on (and on, and on).
While the initial set-up is pretty solid: you have a mysterious duo laying waste to a church of drug-dealers; the titular, adorable kitten finding itself on Rell’s doormat; then the theft of said kitten causing reactionary conflicts as the pair track him down, the film starts to lose its momentum when it continuously emphasises the joke. A joke about Clarence’s love for George Michael is spread almost to breaking point, picked up again for a well-deserved punchline, then used twice more; as does the main joke about race, which is introduced perfectly, then wrung out until there’s nothing left but two men shouting.
Key and Peele aren’t for everyone – and in fact, I couldn’t make it that far into their show without giving up – but for those that do love their schtick will find a lot to enjoy in Keanu. It’s got a strong first act with fabulous chemistry, followed by a weakened, repetitive second, and by the third, it descends into generic, dispensible action in lieu of the smart wit that they’re known for. Maybe for their next feature – if there is one – they’ll forgo their familiar joke-punchline-repeat format for something a little smarter: the qualification is there (their delivery in shows such as Fargo proves this), it’s just whether they can – or want to – break away from that model.
Oh, and I’m more of a dog person anyway.