At the movies: “Keanu”
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Directed By Peter Atencio
Starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Tiffany Haddish, Anna Faris, Will Forte, Nia Long, Method Man, Luis Guzman
Warner Bros., Rated R, Action, Comedy, 100 minutes
“Keanu” idolizes adorable kittens in the same way that “Black Beauty,” “Sea Biscuit,” and other equestrian films exalt the gallant steed. As the film opens, workers sort, weigh and package a drug lord’s powdered goods while the kingpin pets and kisses his prize, a darling four-month old tabby. Suddenly, “the Allentown Brothers” (a pair of murderous assassins) arrive toting semiautomatics. Shirtless workers and overlords fall in heaps, their blood splatter painting the walls, as the gun reports send the kitten running, jumping, tumbling and miraculously evading the carnage — all in slow-motion. He is caught by one of the killers who nuzzles the furry baby against his stubbly face while his partner executes the drug lord.
Startled, the kitten bolts through an open door — into the rain. Our feline hero arrives at the home of Rell (Jordan Peele), a layabout smoking weed and watching TV in the middle of the day while complaining on the phone to his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key,) “Do you believe my girlfriend left me because she said, ‘your life is going nowhere?’”
After hanging up, Rell opens his front door to find the kitten on his stoop. He falls instantly in love, purchasing cat trees, toys and a variety of costumes for the kitty he names Keanu (after that “Matrix” actor). Keanu becomes Rell’s photographic muse, mewing for a monthly calendar that fetchingly stars the kitten in scenes from famous movies, dressed as each film’s lead character.
A couple of weeks later Rell leaves Keanu at home in order to see a movie with Clarence, who has the weekend free while his wife and daughter vacation out of town. Rell returns from their evening out to find his home ransacked and, most distressingly, Keanu gone. These events propel Rell into a panic over his missing kitty. He drags Clarence next door to ask his white, dreadlock-wearing neighbor and marijuana supplier (Will Forte), whether anyone new has come around? Before the 40-something pot dealer can reply, his beleaguered mum appears, clarifying that the dealer is a freeloader in her home.
It turns out that local henchmen from the Blips (a gang consisting of ousted Bloods and Crips) have been nosing around. This information sends Rell and Clarence off to recover the kitten by meeting the Blip’s leader (Method Man), while unconvincingly posing as gangsters named Techtonic and Shark Tank. In fact, they accidentally assume the murderous gunmen’s identity after it is suggested to them that they must be “the Allentown Brothers” — an inside joke because Key and Peele also play the assassins, obscured beneath face-covering dreadlocks and full-length trench coats.
Mainly fun up to this point (15 minutes in), the film now devolves into a series of disconnected sketches. Expressing the desire for a new gangster pet, the pair agree to mentor the Blip’s first-string team of drug sellers in exchange for the kitten, named New Jack by his latest sponsor. In a funny bit, our stone-cold-killer mentors use corporate team-building techniques garnered from Clarence’s workplace (i.e., everyone say your name and share two things about yourself with the group), as a means to increase the Blip’s drug-selling quartet’s communication skills.
Some ideas are cute, but many are half-baked, hampered at every turn by bloody violence and incongruously portrayed alongside Keanu-worshippping snippets (i.e. the kitten nonchalantly sporting a gang banger’s bandana and miniature bling necklace).
The more important, larger joke laughs at us: Those of us from developed nations who think of our pets as family members, and therefore go to great lengths to recover one we’ve lost. However, given the number of people (me included) who feel strongly about our furry relatives, we may not find the idea of our foolishness amusing.
It is hilarious when no less than three bad asses melt in the presence of this charming kitten. But, even this juxtaposition is understandable to those of us who shout (from within the safety of our cars!) at idiot drivers, only to forget our rage the moment we are greeted by a cuddly, furry friend. (If there’s something funny about that, I’d rather not talk about it — Umkay?).