Confession time: I have seen a grand total of one Key and Peele sketch. I enjoyed it, realize that their brand of comedy is likely something I would enjoy, but I just have never gotten around to watching the show. I was, however, excited to see their big screen debut, Keanu, mostly because the premise has some real comedic potential. Here’s the problem, though: Keanu just isn’t a very good movie. I wanted to laugh, and I saw how the situations could have been funny, but even taking away my cynical critical lens, the audience around me wasn’t laughing either, which is an obvious problem for a comedy.
Rell (Jordan Peele), a down-on-his-luck stoner, one day finds an adorable kitten on his doorstep that he adopts and names Keanu. When his place is robbed after being mistaken for his next-door neighbor/pot dealer, Rell embarks on a journey to recover his cat from a local gang. Joining him is his awkwardly uptight suburban cousin, Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), and the two must impersonate infamous killers in order to keep themselves alive and deal for Keanu’s return.
Where I see a lot of potential for comedy is in Key and Peele’s ability as character actors, as well as the chemistry they clearly have from years of working together. Peele plays with his character being not nearly as tough as he thinks he is in a way that mocks Black masculine culture pointedly, and Key is such a blatant antithesis to badassery that it’s genuinely endearing when he is the one accepted into the fold of the kitten’s captors. The comedians play off each other so naturally that it really is no surprise to me that their show ran for five seasons.
But in transitioning to the big screen, Key and Peele have hit the same roadblock that many sketch comics face, and that is that they aren’t able to support the extended scenes inherent to the cinematic experience. There were a few instances where the film felt inspired and chuckle-worthy, but there were many more times where I thought a joke would have benefited from snappier editing or a quicker cut to the next scene. This is most apparent when Key and Peele don’t occupy a scene together, as they only have inferiorly comic actors to bounce off of instead of each other. The film tries to solve these divisions by intercutting between their concurrent scenes, but this causes both scenes to feel too long and played out without ever hitting hard on their punchlines.
I saw this movie on 4/20, so you know that half the theater was probably stoned; even then the most I heard were some weak snickers. The premise of this movie is fantastic, and the raw energy and chemistry of Key and Peele make them appealing enough where I’m not dissuaded from checking out their sketch show to see what the fuss is about. But Keanu just isn’t a very funny movie, and that’s the biggest problem a comedy can have. It’s not an easily quantifiable thing to analyze; comedy just either works or it doesn’t. Here, it unfortunately doesn’t.