The plot of “Keanu” has worked for literally a hundred years, since the days of silent film comedies: An ordinary guy, mistaken for a cowboy or warrior or gangster, has to fake his way past the real thing and discovers he enjoys the role he’s taken on.
In this case, two guys – sketch comedians Key and Peele – go in search of the title character, a kitten with irresistible charm for anyone he meets. Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) adopts the stray, not realizing he has escaped from a Latino druglord’s factory. A drug dealer named Cheddar (Method Man) takes him from Peele, who enlists pal Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key) to help get Keanu back.
To survive in a thuggish world, the friends become “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank.” Braggadocio and accidental butt-kicking get them out of scrapes with assassins, crackheads and yet another drug czar (Luis Guzmán, a psychotic Winnie-the-Pooh). Along the way, Rell and Clarence rediscover a zeal for life.
Much of the humor comes from juxtaposing the characters of peaceful, well-spoken black men against the expectations of those they meet, whether white or black. The recurring joke – that they inspire respect when they drop n-words and talk like fools – doesn’t lose its zing. Director Peter Atencio, who also directed 54 episodes of the TV series “Key and Peele,” knows how to pace these scenes.
To enjoy this movie, though, you must ask no questions. Why do a trio of gunmen suddenly discover a love for George Michael and start singing along with him in Clarence’s van? Because it’s funny. Why does uncredited Anna Faris turn up as one of Cheddar’s customers, wearing raccoon makeup and waving a samurai sword? Because it’s nuts.
Key and Peele sustain this lunacy for as long as it can play out, and Peele even gets a romantic interest in bemused Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), who warms up to this odd guy despite being Cheddar’s second-in-command.
The movie springs surprises from time to time, whether in casting (notably Will Forte as a whiny weed salesman) or plot twists, perhaps half of which make sense. The real surprise is not that the high-strung Key and grounded Peele have rapport – their sketches demonstrate that – but that it can be used to anchor a full-length comedy.
☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Will Forte.
Director: Peter Atencio.
Length: 98 minutes.
Rating: R (violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity).