Keanu (dir. Peter Atencio)

Posted: May 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

“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


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