SXSW Review: Keanu (Working Print)

SXSWWell, Keanu is hilarious. It was nice to breathe that sigh of relief after watching the working print shown here at SXSW. From the decent, but not-hilarious trailer that was released a few months ago, it seemed like the very talented and funny duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele might not quite have transitioned from sketch comedy to feature length comedy with as much solidity as is required. But it turns out, they just wanted to save some of the best stuff for the film itself; a welcome break from something like Zoolander 2, which had a good trailer and turned out to be completely bereft of comedy as a film. Keanu takes that magic Key and Peele brought to their TV show and translates it with tremendous success.

The film was screened at around 12:45 AM to an exhausted, but intensely excited packed crowd at the gorgeous Paramount Theatre (1100 seats, balcony, ceiling art) and ended after 3AM (factoring in daylight savings time) to laughs, cheers, and applause which were prevalent all throughout the showing. Key and Peele themselves attended and introduced the film, which went a long way to keeping everyone there and awake. However, the film itself was clever, dazzling, and funny enough to not let any exhausted attendees nod off. If anything, coming out of it we were all energized by the steady flow of jokes and cute kitten-ness that pervades Keanu.

Keanu is about people-pleaser, married father Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) and his cousin Rell (Jordan Peele) an action-movie-loving stoner, who happens upon a kitten that brings him a new joie-de-vivre and he names it Keanu. The two find themselves way out of their depth when they are caught up in some gang drama resulting from a robbery of Rell’s apartment, mistakenly meant for his neighbor and drug dealer played by Will Forte. The robbery left Rell’s house in shambles and Keanu missing, so the two cousins set out to find the beloved kitten regardless of what kind of scenarios that gets them into with the local gangs. Shortly after being introduced to the gang boss, Cheddar (Method Man), Clarence and Rell take on over-the-top gangster personas, and set out to prove themselves in order to secure Keanu’s return.

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What drives the characters to continue to jump further and further into situations for which they are unprepared is Rell’s completelty understandable obsession with making sure he can be reunited with the absolutely adorable Keanu. Similarly to the titular character in the film John Wick, to which this film is a clear homage, Rell’s willingness to stop at nothing to get to the thing that is driving him, is his most dangerous asset. Clarence sticks around because his wife and child are gone for the weekend and he promised himself to get in some Clarence-time. And throughout all of the danger, drama, and drugs of this venture to save Keanu, Clarence is able to find more balance in his life and teach some young gangsters a new appreciation for cooperation and George Michael. This all sounds flimsy, and it is. And the film is unapologetic in its ridiculousness and its parody; and that is what makes it great. Like Hot Fuzz before it, Keanu is an action comedy made by fans of action films, who happen to be excellent comedians.

As far as the action elements go, after an opening scene with Matrix-like flippy gun-play, Keanu takes its time to re-introduce and then ramp up all of the action scenes, culminating in a gunfight, chase scene, and a showdown that all deliver on the action and continue to infuse the comedy. The script is surprisingly tight, keeping the characters intentions clear, and the scenes moving quickly all without dropping into too much of a lull in scenes that can hold attention. Additionally, this isn’t just a comedy with some action scenes or an action film written by funny people; as the action moves the plot just as much as the jokes do and each component would be lost without the other.

Overall, fans of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” will likely get the most joy out of Keanu, as there are some subtle callbacks to the show, but already being a fan isn’t necessary to truly enjoying this superb blend of action and comedy. Oh, and of course the kitten is adorable, which totally justifies all of the insane actions taken by all the characters in order to keep the little guy under their care. When Keanu is released this Spring, grab some friends and get ready for a belly full of laughs and a theater full of “aww”s. To Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, regarding this being a working print of the film, please don’t change a thing. It is great!

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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