Cinema Dispatch: Keanu

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Keanu and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Peter Atencio

The day has finally come for these two titans of TV comedy to make the leap to the silver screen!  That’s ALWAYS a great idea, right?  Okay, so sometimes the transition from small screen to big screen can be a bit awkward, but the trailers for this movie have inspired a lot of hope in me and many others that this will turn out to be the exception rather than the rule for sketch comedians turned movie stars!  Can the duo pull it off, or is it back to Comedy Central to beg for another season of their show?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows the misadventures of Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key); cousins and best friends who must retrieve Rell’s cat Keanu from the clutches of villainy!  You see, Rell had just had a pretty bad break up and was spiraling into depression without much hope for a brighter future.  That is until a small kitten that’s as cute as a button wanders up to his doorstep; bringing with him a glimmer of light and new chapter in Rell’s life.  But where exactly did this cat come from?  Well, what Rell doesn’t know is that this cat belonged to a local drug dealer who’s entire gang was killed right before he himself was murdered; all done by two tough as nails, long haired, mute mother fuckers who did this… for some reason, and are now hell bent on finding that cat… for some reason.  Not only that, but while Rell and Clarence are out seeing a movie, Rell’s place gets broken into and Keanu is kidnapped by the Seventeenth Street Blips (a crew too badass for the Bloods or the Crips)… for some reason.  Honestly, don’t question why people want Keanu; just assume he’s too cute to NOT steal.  Anyway, Rell and Clarence now must go undercover as tough guys and gang bangers (two things they are quite far from being) if they have any hopes of infiltrating the Blips and getting the cat back.  Will they be able to fool the members of this crew and pretend to be hard long enough to get their cat back?  What about the two crazy-ass murderers looking for the cat?  How are they gonna fit into all this?  Wait, so this ISN’T a parody of John Wick!?

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“WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS!?”     “YOU DID IT!  WHATEVER IT IS, I T WAS YOU!!”

I did end up liking this movie, but I was disappointed.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been expecting so much.  Sure, Key and Peele are REALLY funny, but outside of Monty Python and a small handful of Saturday Night Live outings, how many first time films by sketch comedians really turn out that good?  For every Wayne’s World or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there’s a Miss March, Hot Rod, and Ali G Indahouse to counter balance it.  I was really hoping this movie wouldn’t fall into that trap, and while it DOES have some genuine bright spots, there’s no denying that this is a weak production, a poorly constructed script, and a huge let down.

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“So when someone says they’re phoning it in…”     “That’s an expression.  Not literal.”     “DAMN!”

Before getting too negative, let’s talk about what works.  All the actors do a hell of a job here and manage to have at least one really great laugh for their character in the movie.  Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are definitely the highlights, but Method Man, Jason Mitchell, Jamar Malachi Neighbors (he’s so good in this while barely saying anything), Tiffany Haddish, and Darrell Britt-Gibson among others turn in damn fine performances and are the reason this movie manages to stay afloat when it starts to go south.  Even Luis Guzmán and Will Forte manage to be decent in this despite their roles being perfunctory at best, though it does help that they don’t really overstay their welcome as they each have about fifteen minutes of screen time at the most.

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So this is where Alan Bishopman ended up when his sword shop became too successful… and I guess came back from the dead.

On top of that, there are some really great scenarios here for jokes to build off of and some creative moments like when Keegan –Michael Key accidently gets high and finds himself in a George Michael music video.  Hell, all the George Michael material they put in this movie manages to be pretty funny.  They get CLOSE to overdoing it, but they had just enough restraint to make it all work; by which I mean the guy doesn’t ACTUALLY show up in the movie which would have completely killed the gag.  Other strong bits include their initial meeting with the Blips (piecing together their cover stories and secret identities on the fly), a scene where they almost get killed by the two psychopaths (we’ll get to those two soon enough), and basically any scene where the four members of Cheddar’s crew are working with Clarence and Rell (Cheddar being the Blips leader played by Method Man).  There are lots of great jokes and solid setups in this movie; It’s just too bad they couldn’t make it all that coherent.

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“Bro.  I’m TELLING you!  Faith was the best album of 1987;  HANDS.  DOWN!”     “OH GOD!!  HELP US!!  THEY’VE GOT SWORDS!!  SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING!!”     “Did you hear that?”     “Nah.  It was probably nothing.  Oh look!  Father Figure!”

What really kill this movie are its structure and its tone.  The stakes in each scene, the character dynamics, even Clarence and Rell’s individual characterizations don’t seem consistent from scene to scene.  The tone varies wildly with some scenes being sickeningly dark and then followed by slapstick comedy or another George Michael bit.  It’s not even like there’s a joke or some hidden commentary in the contradiction between the goofy stuff and the harsh stuff.  It just feels like they want to stick some shock value into the movie without knowing how to organically integrate it into the material.  The worst example of this is when Anna Ferris shows up as herself.  The scene is a bit funny (though not nearly as funny as the other scene happening concurrently with hers), but it goes south pretty fast and just becomes unpleasant to sit through; especially once it reaches its end which put a damper on the rest of the damn movie for me.  The try to Deus Ex Machina the whole thing at the end with a throwaway line, but I don’t buy it for a second and the “explanation” as it were makes even less sense than what we saw happen.  In fact, the whole ending twist (which I won’t spoil here but is SUPER obvious) makes no sense in the context of the movie and in context of one of the character’s actions.  It feels tacked on at best and it ends the movie on a weak note.

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It’s like The Usual Suspects!  Except… well… for everything that made that movie awesome.

On top of that, the movie feels very fragmented and doesn’t seem to have a clear theme or a real idea of what kind of movie it wants to be.  Clarence and Rell are straight up cartoon characters; both acting like exaggerated version of a bougie black man and pothead respectively.  Okay that’s fine, but then that doesn’t fit well when the movie tries to get serious; whether it’s trying to go dark or trying to be sincere.  The gang members (the Blips) are very well portrayed and do come off as menacing (which helps elevate the scenes where Key and Peele are trying to ineptly pull a fast one on them), but the script REQUIRES them to somehow buy all the obvious bullshit these two are spilling and so the Blip characters end up flip flop between bumbling gang bangers and a scary criminals.  Why would ANYONE take Method Man’s character seriously after he starts to believe that these two lame mother fuckers are super criminals?

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“We’re totally DOPE gangstas!”     “Really?  Well what colors are you wearing?”     “Uh… The Mint Green Face Cutters?”

Lastly, there are two super scary criminals in here played by Key and Peele as well (and before anyone asks, no one knows what they look like so there’s no way someone would confuse these two for them on looks alone) who are ALSO after the cat, and while I LIKE the concept, they are very poorly used here.  They have decent screen presence as bad guys hunting after whoever has the cat (they’re no Snake Walker from the Muppet Movie, but they do fine here) and they provide a consistent threat that’s looming over our heroes throughout their journey.  The problem is that the way they’re staggered into the movie and ESPECIALLY the way they exit it fails to capitalize on their presence in any meaningful way.  For fuck’s sake, they’re taken out of the movie right before the third act to be replaced by Luis Guzmán as the final bad guy!  Why would they play their hand with these characters so early when they’re CLEALRY the only real threat!?

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“You two make the guy from Hatred look dignified.”     “…”     I’m sorry.  I… I didn’t mean it.”

Some of the movies based on sketch comedy characters or groups can be funny, but almost all of them have the problem of trying to transition that material into a feature length film.  Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie had that problem as well, but also like Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, this still manages to be funny and have some bright spots.  The key difference is that while Billion Dollar movie is basically the culmination of all their material concentrated into a feature film, this doesn’t feel like the Key and Peele who was making sketches like Text Message Confusion, Gay Wedding Advice, and Substitute Teacher.  This doesn’t feel up to their level of talent, but still manages to be fine for a first outing.  It’s probably not worth checking out at the theater, but for fans of these two, I’d highly recommend it once it hits home release.  Maybe you can cut it up and pepper the good scenes in with a couple of their episodes!

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Keanu [Blu-ray]

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