Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: "Keanu"

Great hitters can't always field the ball, good choral singers aren't necessarily strong soloists, and fine orators often make poor leaders. And so it is with television comedians trying to make the jump to feature films.

Like Amy Schumer with "Trainwreck," the team behind the Comedy Central hit "Key and Peele" fail to grasp the difference between sketch comedy and film comedy. The former only has to be funny or make sense for a few minutes; the latter has to carry its energy all the way through.

"Keanu" does not. The story of a pair of uptight, upper-middle-class black dudes who spend an evening in the roughest L.A. 'hoods, it's got a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. Most of these revolve around Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) and Rell (Jordan Peele) screaming like little girls when confronted with some horrific act of violence or the prospect of their imminent demise.

On their show, Pelle and Key can easily jump from character to character -- there's always a commercial to break up the sketches. Here they start out as nerdy "Oreos" (black on the outside, white on the inside) and spend the rest of the movie trying to talk and act like the sort of hardcase gangstas they've only experienced through television and film.

The setup is that Rell has his new kitten, Keanu, stolen after his house is broken into -- apparently a case of mistaken identity, as his next door neighbor (Will Forte), is a drug dealer. The kitty keeps changing hends, from Colombian drug lords to a pair of ghost-like killers known only as "the Allentown boys" (actually Key and Pelle, heavily made up) to Cheddar, a local banger played by Method Man.

The running joke is that all these grim characters instantly fall in love with Keanu, and will do anything to get him back, including kill or be killed.

Rell and Clarence foolishly head over to Cheddar's HQ, the Hot Party Vixens club (check that acronym), where they are immediately called out as suburban wimps. So they adopt the personas of Tectonic and Shark Tank -- after the puffer fish in "Finding Nemo?" -- which means dropping their voices an octave and saying the n-word a whole lot.

One of the funnier sequences is where a bunch of them are waiting in Clarence's minivan, which he says he drives because it's inconspicuous, and they turn on his stereo, which left off on a George Michael song. Clarence, ahem, Shark Tank, manages to convince them Michael is actually cool black music.

Tiffany Haddish plays Hi-C, one of Cheddar's crew who starts to take an unlikely shine to Rell/Tectonic, Nia Long is Clarence's wife and Luis Guzman plays the drug lord.

Co-written by Peele and Alex Rubens and directed by Peter Atencio, "Keanu" is the sort of thing you expect from a bunch of TV guys who think they've got what it takes for the big screen. It's a whole lot of obvious jokes -- want to guess if the cat's most famous namesake turns up, at least aurally? -- and playing off the stars' television personalities.

There are three or four good and funny scenes, about enough for a single half-hour episode of "Key and Peele."

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