Archive for May, 2016

“The Nice Guys” is a breath of fresh air. At a time when the American film industry is becoming increasingly bifurcated into big budget popcorn films on one end and tiny, independent films that might not see the light outside of VOD, “The Nice Guys” fits into that quickly-being-forgotten sweet spot of a mid-budget film that coasts on the stars’ charisma, the director’s style, and the snapping dialogue of the screenplay. Fun movies with some artistry, like this one, are getting lost more and more. I, for one, am glad that at least THIS ONE saw the light of day.

 

Mixing elements of the buddy comedy and neo-noir mystery, “The Nice Guys” tells the story of how a lazy, alcoholic-but-skilled PI (Ryan Gosling) and a muscle for hire (Russell Crowe) end up joining forces to find a missing girl (Margaret Qualley).  The worlds of 70s porn and the Detroit auto industry, as well as hit men and government conspiracies, also get rapped up in this mix. Oh, and we can’t forget about the smartest and most likeable person in the movie: Gosling’s 13-year-old daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), who serves as the film’s conscience and moral compass, as well as being a very clever girl who is clearly tied to her father and also above him.

 

The year is 1977, but “The Nice Guys” isn’t so much a period piece as it is a film that evokes motifs related to the 70s and cribs the decade’s iconography for both humor and style. Since the film itself is kind of a throwback to 70s neo-noirs like “Chinatown”, as well as the buddy cop comedies of the 80s like “Lethal Weapon” (which was written by this film’s co-writer/director Shane Black), it makes sense for the film to also crib style and flash as well as story elements from previous eras.  Hell, the very existence of a star-driven, mid-budgeted adult-aimed movie being released in theaters IN THE SUMMER is itself a throwback.  The film feels like it was made during the 70s nostalgia period in the 90s and early 2000s when Hollywood wasn’t in such a creative funk for serious (but still comedic) affairs.  If “The Nice Guys” is being received so warmly by myself and others, it’s as much a testament to the film itself as it is to our frustration with the direction the American movie industry is taking lately.

 

  1. A porn star dies in an apparent car accident. The daughter of a justice department official goes missing. Hit men tied to both the porn star and the daughter are trying to find the daughter. Our heroes are trying to find the daughter. The big mystery is why everyone wants to find this girl, and what all of the elements have to do with one another. The mystery is interesting enough to keep us interested, there’s a (tiny) but of political commentary involved (economics and the environment were issues as pressing in the 70s as they are today), but what really keeps this train running are Gosling and Crowe. They both dive headfirst into these characters and, more importantly, their chemistry together pops in an electrifying what that makes you wonder why no one else thought to team up these two before. While I’m a big fan of Gosling being serious (“Drive” and “The Place Beyond the Pines”), he has a real talent for comedy, and for playing likeable schmucks. Crowe, who perhaps has been hampered by playing characters too serious at times, seems to relish in playing a character who acts as both comedian and as straight man, while also being s character of empathy.

 

We also get some fine supporting work. Rice, as Holly, plays the smart kid sidekick that Shane Black seems to like tying to damaged adults (remember the second act of Black’s “Iron Man 3”), and her character is instantly likeable, and Rice is far better than your average child actress. Not since Chloe Moretz burst on to the scene in “Kick-Ass” can I remember a child actress who so forcefully held her own with established stars. We also get Kim Basinger in a small role, Matt Bomer as a really chilly and frightening hit man, Beau Knapp as a comically inexperienced hit man, and Lois Smith as an old woman with the thickest glasses you’ve ever seen.

 

“The Nice Guys” is consistently very funny.  It also has some decent action sequences, interesting action movie violence where, in one scene involving a hotel, our main characters are merely witnesses, and some quieter character moments that reveal that the title of “The Nice Guys” points to what this film is asking us. Are people who do bad things, but whose hearts are in the right place and don’t do anything severely reckless, bad people or nice guys?  The film seems to argue that no guy is truly nice (though some girls can be) but that good intentions and a kind heart can make up for an unavoidable asshole-ness and understandable stupidity in all men.

 

I laughed a lot during the film. I enjoyed the 70s setting and story elements. The mystery is intriguing enough. The politics are subtle (kind of) but still there. The leads have great chemistry. The action works without being at odds to the comedic tone.  “The Nice Guys” is about as good of a film as it could possibly be. If I didn’t like it more, it’s because the film isn’t trying to be art, but instead be the highest levels of pure entertainment it can be. At that level, it succeeds with flying colors. B+

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“Money Monster” is a by-the-numbers hostage film with one dimensional characters that seems like it is trying to say something about Wall Street, or Capitalism, or something. The film ultimately says nothing. The problem is, if you want to make a film that indicts Wall Street, your villain can’t be one single corrupt man.  That implies that the system is fine except when a bad apple abuses it. In fact, initially the film presents the situation where the media, and the fictitious company responsible for an $800 million shareholder loss, blame the loss on a computer glitch in an algorithm the company uses for high frequency trading. The film later tells us, courtesy of a Korean character that wrote the algorithm, that the algorithm doesn’t allow for that to happen, and there’s nothing wrong with it in and of itself. Any loss, therefore, was caused by human error.  The problem with that is, though, in real life these algorithms game the system in a legal way. Michael Lewis wrote a book about high frequency trading called “Flash Boys” about this issue. In the world of “Money Monster”, high frequency trading is fine unless a single, corrupt CEO takes his company’s computer program off line to hide a bad investment. Okay.

 

This simplification undercuts any hope that the film could be seen as an indictment of Wall Street or Capitalism in the way that, say, “The Big Short” (also based on a book by Michael Lewis) was. I’m not above making a multi-faceted enemy into a single entity for narrative simplicity (USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” does, and it does it very well), but this film creates a single, convenient villain and excuses the rest of the system around that villain. So yes, we have an evil CEO named Walt Camby (Dominic West) who illegally diverted funds in his company to invest in a South African mine that he manipulated to have a strike so that the price of stock would go down. When the strike didn’t end has he thought he had planned for, the price crashed lower, he lost the money, and he used a fake glitch to hide the loss. If this film wanted to indict Wall Street, it would have had numerous CEOs doing legal but immoral things to get themselves richer but screw everyone else, like their investors. That would show that the system is rigged to allow people to legally do horrible things to the economy. Instead, we have an evil person operating in a system that, the film implies, works well when evil people aren’t interfering. This is about as much a criticism of Wall Street as Hillary Clinton saying she told bankers to “cut it out” (whatever “it” is).  When our main star is George Clooney, who recently held a multi-million dollar fundraiser for Clinton, is it any wonder the criticism of “Money Monster” is as tame and hollow as a promise from Clinton to rein in Wall Street?

 

Clooney stars as Lee Gates, an obvious stand in for Jim Cramer, the host of the unorthodox CNBC show “Mad Money”. “Money Monster”, which is also the same of Gates’s show within the film, is a little late in criticizing Cramer, as Jon Stewart years ago eviscerated Cramer’s poor advice in a 30 minute take down on “The Daily Show”. In any event, Gates is a semi-obnoxious host of an investing show and also a shill for various companies. He sticks to talking points and is more a creature of the system than a journalist. His long suffering director, Patty (Julia Roberts) is about to leave the show, and that’s about all we ever know of her. She is a one dimensional character whose job in the movie is to talk in Gates’s ear or, occasionally, shout at people. During the filming of an episode, a blue collar delivery man, Kyle (Jack O’Connell) walks onto the set, pulls out a gun, and forces Gates to put on a bomb vest. Kyle lost $60,000 by investing in Camby’s company based on Gates’s suggestion in a previous episode, and Kyle wants to know how $60,000 could just disappear, and wants a better explanation than “a glitch”.

 

Kyle is also a one dimensional character, and the only character who can be described as a regular, working class man. He’s portrayed as dumb and pathetic. He leaves his gun on a table near his hostage, his girlfriend says he cries during sex, and he’s clumsy. For a film that is supposed to be arguing against the financial system, it has a very low opinion of the middle and lower class. Why the film decided to attempt to make Gates a sympathetic figure (a rich TV host) or Patty a hero (probably a high-five or low-6-figure-a-year cable TV director) but shit on the working class character is a weird bit of class warfare within the film. Other non-rich characters are the unlikable police characters, Kyle’s girlfriend (Emily Meade) who is portrayed as being nothing but anger and exists in the film only to emotionally wound Kyle before disappearing from the film, and lowly people in the production, who are largely there for comic relief (rub new erection cream on penis and bang another person in the office).  The other “heroes” of this movie are the PR director for Camby’s company (Caitriona Balfe), who happens to be having an affair with Camby (because stealing $800 million isn’t enough to make him evil, he has to cheat on his wife too), and some computer hackers from Iceland. Okay.

 

The film proceeds like your standard hostage film. It is mildly interesting as it chugs along, but since you know Kyle’s not going to kill anyone and you doubt that bomb vest is real from the get-go, there’s not much suspense or tension. The film becomes pretty far fetched when we’re left to believe that the network would allow all of these events to air live, that the cops wouldn’t intervene when the hostage and the hostage-taker are literally walking down a busy street, that the cops would allow civilians to get REALLY CLOSE to a bomb vest as their walking, and other lunacy. The film often strains credulity more than it earned any willing suspension of disbelief. The mystery Gates et al. are trying to solve is fairly obvious form the get go, so you’re just getting details instead of filling them in.

 

The end of the film is uselessly cynical. Kyle is killed, Gates becomes slightly less of an asshole, and the audience that was watching all of these events unfold go back to their lives, not caring about bigger issues regarding Wall Street or the economy. Oh, and Camby becomes an internet meme and faces criminal charges. A cynical ending to a film about Wall Street malfeasance, people getting away with crimes, and people not doing anything about it can be done well (again “The Big Short”), but this film pretty much kills the working class character, states that all is well with the system because the bad apple has been punished, and isn’t it nice that our upper class cable news employees are slightly less of assholes. This movie is an indictment of people who care about these issues, and insults them…no matter how many Robert Reich soundbites it chalks on before the closing credits to pretend the film is arguing about our rigged economy.  If “The Big Short” is the Bernie Sanders of movies, “Money Monster” is the insulting, cop out, unfeeling, divorced from the working class Hillary Clinton of movies. C.

“Captain America: Civil War” seems to be pretending it is about government oversight. The main disagreement between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) revolves around whether to give oversight of the Avengers and their activities to the United Nations. The politics of this, however, are not really delved into with any great aplomb. Remember, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one where the United States government seriously considered using nuclear weapons on New York City and where the government was deeply infiltrated (up to the levels of the Senate, as shown in the character played by the late Gary Shandling in “Winter Soldier”) by a Nazi death cult. So yeah, within this universe there is no question that Captain America is in the right. Add on to that the fact that the only reasons the United Nations want to keep the Avengers in check is because of victims of villains in New York and Zokovia (from the previous “Avengers” films, many more of whom would be dead without Avengers intervention) and a clear accident that would have actually killed more people in this film. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her force field-ish powers to hold in the blast from a suicide bomb. She loses control and the blast is directed into a building, killing about a dozen civilians. If Scarlet Witch had not intervened at all, many more would have died.

 

Compare this to the inciting event in the “Civil War” comic book.  A bunch of teenaged superheroes filming a reality show attempt to take down a villain, but the heroes are brash and inexperienced, and the villain sets off an explosion killing many. That incident raises far more questions of oversight than the one in the film. Therefore, the film is so stacked on one side as to not really deal with this issue at all. In fact, the main proponent of oversight at the U.N. is the UNELECTED monarch of an African nation called Wakanda, T’Chaka (John Kani).  It seems a tad hypocritically for an unelected monarch that rules over a nation prosperous because of it’s mining of a rare metal to take issue with the Avengers not being held under democratic controls. The MCU is clearly a place where government cannot be trusted.  Even if it could, the U.N. is probably a poor body to regulate a group of superpowered vigilantes. Would nations like Russia and China be able to veto Avengers actions, much like they have veto power in the real life U.N.’s Security Council? Since the Avengers are largely a group of American or nation-less persons (including alien Thor (not in this film), A.I. Vision (Paul Bettany), and Eastern European Scarlet Witch, it would probably be better for either an American-centered oversight committee to have regulations on them, or some sort of joint-country board that isn’t beholden to nearly 200 individual voices and bureaucracy.

 

The politics, however, are just window dressing anyway.  The point of “Civil War” is to watch heroes fight heroes, and it’s kind of refreshing.  The MCU has had fairly weak villains all along, and the big finales of these films tend to involve our heroes fighting a bunch of CGI NPCs to the point of excruciating boredom. How many times can we watch superheroes fight hordes of digital robots (“Iron Man 2”, “Iron Man 3”, “Ultron”) or digital aliens (“The Avengers”), before it’s just a dull as fuck cartoon?  In “Civil War”, while there are still many CGI fights scenes, we are seeing characters we care about, or at least new characters with personalities, fight other characters we care about. This means there are STAKES involved, and it’s not just heroes we know will prevail fighting a bunch of red shirts. Granted, you know these heroes aren’t out for blood on the other heroes, and you know Black Widow’s not going to murder Ant-Man or something (it’s perhaps a bit weak that no character is killed or seriously harmed by the events of the film), but caring about the characters fighting automatically makes the film more exciting and the battle scenes have more audience investment in them.

 

The film does have a villain though, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). I actually liked this villain because he’s smart, and he’s a window into what political message the film is ACTUALLY giving. I know hardcore comic fans will be upset at how much that character was changed from the comics, but I wasn’t. Zemo’s family was killed in the midst of the Ultron attack on Zokovia in the last Avengers film. Zemo, upset that his family was killed as collateral damage and the Avengers just went home after, hatches an elaborate scheme to tear apart the Avengers from the inside, by causing a rift between Cap and Iron Man.  His plan, which may not need to have been as complicated as it was, is pretty solid, and it seems to more or less work (though the last scene if the film prior to the credits seemingly undercuts this a bit).  I’m just happy we don’t have another boring villain whose goal is to take over and/or destroy the world.  The smaller stakes involves are, again, refreshing.

 

So yes, the real politics of this movie are about collateral damage, and how this creates new villains and terrorists. Zemo sets off a bomb at the U.N. to frame the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), killing T’Chaka, leading his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to be single-handled focuses on revenge of the murderous variety. Scarlet Witches accident resulting in the collateral damage of a dozen or so people sets off the entire plot. This is a movie where almost all of the evil is a result of innocent, unintended victims dying. The word “drone” is never uttered, but this film is more than implicitly arguing that collateral damage creates more monsters by instilling in people a strong desire for revenge. So, in real life, when innocent people are killed by America’s drone bombings, we turn other innocent people into terrorists because they, understandably, want revenge on the country/people who murdered their loved ones. My one complaint with regards to Zemo is that the film makes him a character who was once a member of state security who committed atrocities. It would have been stronger if he hadn’t been evil BEFORE the tragedy. A reformed monster who becomes a monster again is not as powerful as an innocent man grieving who becomes a monster due to tragedy.

 

The one exception to this is the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes, who was a brainwashed soldier forced to commit atrocities, and dealing with the MCU version of PTSD because of it. In a sense, the film is arguing that all soldiers in war are brainwashed. Not literally like Bucky is, via torture and sci-fi methods, but we brainwash our soldiers with politics, ideology, nationalism, and ego boosts about how much of “heroes” they are. This message of the film is far more implicit (a major motion picture can’t exactly argue that all soldiers are brainwashed sheep who commit atrocities simply because of orders), but it’s there.

 

But enough about politics and messages, is the film any good?  Well, yes it is. It’s not as good as “Winter Soldier”, which had a stronger political message and a meatier story in general, but it’s miles better than “Ultron” and is one of the best films of this MCU.  The big set-piece battle scenes are fun and actually exciting because, again, we’re seeing characters we care about fight and not our heroes fighting disposable cartoon robots. The returning heroes, even when their appearance is little more than an extended cameo (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man) get a moment to shine. We get two big new heroes.  There is the much hyped new Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland. I actually LOVED this portrayal of the character. He’s young, verbose, funny, and he has the voice I hear when I read Spider-Man’s dialogue in comics. There’s not enough Peter Parker in the movie to judge how he plays him, but Spider-Man is directly on point.

 

As for Black Panther, who is T’Challa…I hated his character. An unelected monarch is always going to rub me the wrong way as a hero (a benevolent dictator is still a dictator who is kept rich of the labor of their subjects). However, his character is also unlikable because he becomes a vengeance-obsessed killer-to-be solely based on once piece of evidence (a blurry video of what looks like it might be Bucky in a hoodie prior to the U.N. bombing).  It’s not quite as ridiculous as Bruce Wayne wanting to murder Superman in “Dawn of Justice” (a film which dealt even more poorly with the issue of collateral damage than this film does), but it’s still pretty damn ridiculous. I suppose Black Panther could get better when he has his own film, but I spent most of the time wishing one of the other characters would chop off his head and liberate his people.

 

The set-piece is the airport fight in the middle of the film where all of our heroes do battle, and if I had only believed one of them might actually die, even if only accidentally, perhaps I’d have cared slightly more. Still, it’s a lot of fun to see the heroes banter while fighting and show off new powers. The final fight, which is largely Cap and Bucky versus Iron Man, feels more passionate and brutal given a Zemo-fueled third act revelation, and while CGI is clearly used to augment the fight, you still feel the punches and the blows more than usual in these sorts of fight sequences. It’s good.

 

I’m still hoping one of these MCU films blows me away, but thus far it has not happened. “Winter Soldier” still remains the best for it’s political messaging and it’s focus on character while not skimping on action, and I had hoped “Civil War” would surpass those qualities. It falls a bit short, but it’s still a damn fun movie, and better than the average Marvel film. B.

“Let him bleed. It’s better for time of death” –Darcy (Patrick Stewart)

 

“Green Room” is an unusually intelligent thriller wherein the characters are all as smart, or smarter, than you would expect them to be given what the film tells you about them. All of the characters behave in realistic and understandable ways, which is unusual enough in a film which straddles entry into the horror genre. While being more of a gory thriller in an old school Peckinpah “Straw Dogs” fashion than an outright horror film, this gem of a movie has vaulted to the top of the heap as the best film of 2016 I have seen so far.

 

The film follows a poor, underground punk band called the Ain’t Rights. They drive from town to town in a van performing small gigs here and there and siphoning gas when they run out of money between venues. The band consists of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole), and Tiger (Callum Turner). After a gig ends up not coming through, their desperation for money to get back home leads them to take a gig at the concert venue/compound of a neo-Nazi group. Playing such venues isn’t too foreign to the band, as hardcore punk rock isn’t as popular as it was in the heyday of the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols, so they’re not too concerned. There’s a brief moment of tension when the band decides to play a cover of the Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to see if violence will erupt.  It doesn’t, aside from a few thrown bottles, and the set continues without incident.

 

As they’re about to leave, being hastily ushered out by Gabe (Macon Blair), the man seemingly managing the concert venue, Sam remembers that she forgot her phone, which she left charging in the “green room” of graphitized walls and torn furniture in which they waited before playing their set. Pat goes to retrieve it, and finds the next band waiting to perform…and a woman’s corpse with a knife in her head while the woman’s friend, Amber (Imogen Poots) is being held back. Now that one of them has seen this, Gabe can’t let them leave, and ushers the Ain’t Rights back into the green room, and the next band out to perform. So then the film leaves us with the band, the corpse, Amber, and a member of the neo-Nazi group, Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) to guard them.

 

This puts Gabe and the neo-Nazi group in an awkward position. There’s a crowded concert venue full of people who could be witnesses if a scene were made. The Ain’t Rights are witnesses who will need to be taken care of. Also, the neo-Nazi group is involved in some other illegal activity which threatens to lead to harm to all of them if the cops were to investigate the random killing done by a band who performed at their venue. Plus, an entire concert venue of people has already seen the Ain’t Rights perform. Simply killing them would place the blame quickly and inevitably on the neo-Nazis. It’s not enough to get rid of the witnesses, they have to be gotten rid of in a way that would not throw suspicion back on their organization.

 

Gabe, realizing he’s in over his head, calls the leader of the group and the owner of the concert venue, Darcy, played with cool-headed, icy evilness by the great Sir Patrick Stewart. Darcy is not the rampant, frothing at the mouth racist that we often see in films which depict neo-Nazi culture (“American History X”, “The Believer”, “Romper Stomper”).  Darcy is an intelligent and collected individual who knows what his problem is and how best to go about solving it. He is matter-of-fact and dispassionate in how he orders and executes what needs to be done. There’s even a funny little moment when he makes an announcement to the concert patrons before sending them home early about a “racial workshop” being held later in the week. He ends his send off by saying “This isn’t a party. It’s a movement”, a phrase has unexpected profundity in this particular election cycle.

 

The band members are not hyper-intelligent people, but they think and act far better and smarter than most protagonists in movies like this. They eventually overpower Big Justin and, at key moments, keep him immobilized using odd wrestling holds. They think over their best moves, even when they have no moves or leverage, before acting. Their attempts to escape (and there are plural attempts) are not hasty and illogical (like the 3rd act of the “Dawn of the Dead” remake attempts), but attempts that are made after all possible precautions have been taken, and with no better options currently available.  At the same time, the neo-Nazis are hindered in some ways (they can’t just burn them out, for a number of reasons, and the band must be disposed of in a certain manner in order to avoid law enforcement coming down on the neo-Nazis later, and the matter includes not using bullets), but they have creative solutions and plans in how to lure the band out and off them, one by one if needed.

 

The violence, when it comes, is gory, brutal, and occasionally shocking. This is a film that does not hold back, and that is refreshing for a film constructed with this artistry and showcasing this much talent in front of the camera. Even more so than the violence, the tension and suspense this film exudes is off the charts.  You know the odds are against the band surviving, but both sides have limitations and are holding different cards. As an audience, we’re never quite sure what the neo-Nazis plans are, though we do get a full view of the band’s, and as such we can be surprised by what works, what doesn’t, and what almost works as the band tries to escape with their lives and the neo-Nazis attempt to lure them out of the green room to kill them.  While the basic plot structure of the film is formulaic to a certain extent, the individual twists and plot specific details are often unpredictable, leaving you feeling like the film could take you almost anywhere.  Since the film feels grounded in reality, it makes the danger feel that much more real.

 

“Green Room” is a superbly masterful film. Tension is actually tense, suspense is actually suspenseful, and violence is actually shocking because, even if the individual band members aren’t all that developed, you can easily put yourself in their place. Because their decisions are understandable and not horror-movie-stupid, when their decision has a negative consequence, you feel like that fate could have befallen you, which makes it hit home that much harder than when you watch an idiot in a slasher movie get killed after splitting up. Combine that with intelligent villains, headed by the wonderfully restrained evil of Stewart’s character, and a visual style that tints the overcast color palette of the pacific northwest with splashes of dark green making things both beautiful and skeevy and the same time, and we have a film that does everything right and not a single thing wrong. “Green Room”, as it exists, is the best possible version of this concept that could have been filmed, which is perhaps the highest compliment I could pay any film. I cannot imagine a single way in which this particular film could have been made any better by changing any part of it. It is as close to a perfect execution of a concept as I am likely to see.

 

The writer/director of this film, Jeremy Saulnier, has directed two films prior to “Green Room”, neither of which I’ve seen but that I’m now supremely interested in viewing. This film shows him as having the skill and adeptness to direct thrillers, dramas, action films, and horror films. I imagine he will remain a very versatile and invaluable talent as his career continues.

 

We are 5 months into 2016, and this is the best film I have seen this year. A.

“Keanu” is about a cat so cute that an entire drug underworld seems obsessed with him. The cat is legitimately cute, but the absurdity of the premise is the coat hook from which the rest of the movie’s humor hangs. Honestly, the cat is kind of a MacGuffin, as the film forgets the cat exists at times in order to play out its Fish Out Of Water premise of two suburban black dudes tossed into a drug-dealing, gang-banging underbelly that they’re only familiar with from movies.  If I had to describe what makes the film funny, I’d say it’s the concept of real life black men forced to enter the world of stereotypical, racist portrayals of black culture, and attempting to blend in to that world…poorly.  The film doesn’t go quite as subversive as it could with parodying racism (like, say, the “Harold & Kumar” movies did), but the culture clash is the source of much laughter.

 

Keanu, the cat, begins the film as the pet of a drug dealer whose operation is shot up and dismantled by some Undertaker-looking guys known as the Allentown Boys (Key & Peele in make-up).  After the massacre, Keanu runs away and ends up at the doorstep of Rell (Peele), who is down in the dumps from getting left by his girlfriend. Rell’s married, suburban cousin Clarence (Key) comes over to meet the cat and to attempt to cheer Rell up. Plus, Clarence’s wife (Nia Long) is out of town with their daughter for the weekend and has urged her husband to have some “me time”.  Rell and Clarence go out to the movies, and come back to see that Rell’s home has been broken in to, and Keanu is gone.

 

Through a series of events, Rell and Clarence find out that Keanu is in the possession of yet another drug dealer, Cheddar (Method Man). In an attempt to get Keanu from him, they pretend to be the Allentown Boys and do some drug dealing with Cheddar’s crew, under the deal that Cheddar will give them Keanu as a token of gratitude for them forging a business relationship together.  The ways Rell and Clarence attempt to act like big time drug dealers results in hilarity ensuing.

 

The film is funniest when it plays up just how big of dorks out main characters are. For instance, Clarence is a huge George Michael fan. There’s nothing wrong with that (I like George Michael), but when some of the gang members scroll through Clarence’s iPod and end up playing “Faith”, “Freedom 90”, and “Father Figure”, well, some quick thinking is required on Clarence’s end, leading to some very funny dialogue, and a nice visual gag of a tattoo later on. That’s not to mention a violent shoot out scored to a George Michael song later. There’s a lot of George Michael music in this movie.

 

The film offers us some violence to act as a humorous counterpoint to the comedic tone of the film, and the requisite drug use and hallucination sequence.  None of this is particularly original, but it works more often than it doesn’t.

 

I never watched a full episode of the TV show “Kay & Peele”, but I’m familiar enough with a handful of sketches to know that Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key can probably do better than “Keanu”. But “Keanu” is a film where at least 2/3rds of the jokes work, and a handful of the jokes are really damn funny. I suppose one could wish the humor focused more on the racial commentary (Rell and Clarence seem like the type of black guys that some other black guys might deride as being too “white” or “sell-outs”, and the film could do more commentary about how there are far more Rells and Clarences in real life black communities than there are Cheddars, even if the Cheddars are what racist white people picture when they picture black men), or on smart little jokes like how Clarence explains how, if a drug dealer wants to never get pulled over, they’d be smarter to drive a minivan instead of a low-rider (it’s true).

 

“Keanu” is a film that was funnier than I expected, but not as funny as it should have been. It’s just funny enough to recommend. B