One of the many cultural differences the UK and and USA has is that over here in Blighty, we love a good comedy duo. Whether it was the classic Morecambe and Wise, the more unique Laurie and Fry or the modern presenting pair of Ant and Dec, we adore seeing two people bounce off each other. Yet, over in the states while comic duos certainly exist, they aren’t iconic like they are over here. So when one rises to prominence, it’s certainly noticed especially when people did fall in love with Key and Peele’s sketch show on Comedy Central. Now though they’ve moved past that and they have now made their first feature film, Keanu.
Rell Williams (Jordan Peele, MADtv) is heartbroken after his girlfriend dumps him, but suddenly cheers up when a kitten appears at his door and he takes it in, naming it Keanu. However his house is broken into and Keanu is stolen by a local gang. That’s not going to stop Rell and his friend Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key, MADtv) though from trying to get him back.
So surely this film should be hilarious right? After all, the plot seems very funny. Infiltrating a gang just to get an admittedly cute kitten back? There must be thousands of jokes that you could mine from that idea? Turns out though, there isn’t. In reality, it’s something that sounds funny when you are spitballing ideas down the pub but when translating it into a film that needs to last an hour and a half, a bit weak. They do all they can with it, make Rell’s emotions go as over the top as possible after his theft, have the kitten dressed in the ‘gangsta’ style you see on the poster, have the kitten run through bloody gang warfare. But while this does get a slight titter, none of them are hilarious and we end up forgetting about the cat for long portions. And when that’s the main point of the film, that’s a problem.
The film has much more success mining comedy out of the main duo by throwing them into a fierce world of gang warfare. Both Rell and Clarence are domesticated, they live decent middle class lives where the latter has a deep love for George Michael’s music. There is some slight racial commentary in how they seem to feel like they should listen to stuff like N.W.A, leading to funny and awkward scene where the police roll up beside them. But by having these two try to act ‘gangsta’, gosh I am sounding so white saying that, alongside actual gangsters is where most of the laughs come from, because Key and Peele play fear so well.
However, the film’s pacing never really helps it out and it’s obvious that Key and Peele are adjusting to a whole new way of making comedy. The first ten minutes go like a flash, Rell is crying on the sofa, finds a kitten and instantly falls in love with it before getting it stolen. The film is desperate to get into the story proper and it sort of sweeps you up with the rest of it. Yet when we are in the film proper, everything slows to a crawl and while there are good lines in here, we have to wait a while to get to them and by then we’re not in the mood for laughing. Slow comedies can work, but not for what Key and Peele are trying to do here.
And in the end, that’s the huge flaw in this film. It simply doesn’t provide the laughs. And that’s what the film’s main aim is. It wants you to be enjoying a laugh riot yet what you get is a laugh disturbance. Don’t get me wrong, there are funny moments which mostly tend to revolve around George Michael and how black he is. But there are not enough of them, I laugh more at blockbusters with the constantly witty lines. Heck, I probably got more laughs out of Gods of Egypt for how stupid it all was than I did out of this.
But I will respect Keanu for one thing. It makes the characters pay for it’s actions, and actually gets a laugh out of it. I remember getting incredibly angry at how the main characters in Let’s Be Cops seem to be rewarded for breaking the law and expect us to laugh along with it, instead of be so very insufferable. Yet here, the characters do pay for their actions and it’s some of the funnest moments in the film because as much as I don’t like the movie, I can recognise the people behind it are smart and are trying their best here. It’s why I can’t be angry at it.
Maybe in a few years Key and Peele will be able to crank out films as hilarious as their sketch series. It’s an incredibly tough transition to move from writing short form comedy to long form, and that unfortunately shows in Keanu. There are laughs, there are smart lines, but there isn’t enough of them and it’s all tied to a conceit that seems funnier than it actually is. I look forward to what this duo can do in the future, but we will have to wait for a truly great film.