Before I saw director Peter Atencio’s hilarious, cat-in-the-hood, action-comedy “Keanu” (*** OUT OF ****), I’d never heard of Comedy Central comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. I watch movies more often than cable so they were entirely new to me. As it turns out, I thought Peele and Key were such side-splitters that I’ll have to check out their Comedy Central episodes. Comparably, they reminded me of buffoons like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Keegan-Michael Key channels Will Ferrell, while Jordan Peele is reminiscent of John C. Reilly. Hopefully, if “Keanu” scores adequately at the box office, we’ll see more of these two. Not only do these jokers radiate charisma galore, but also they aren’t obnoxious comics. Typically, the geeky Peele and Key routines shun bowel humor. Essentially, as an above-average comedy, “Keanu” mirrors their kind of offbeat humor. Geographically, “Keanu” is set in Los Angeles, but it imitates the Gotham lensed Wesley Sniper’s crime thriller “New Jack City.” If you relish “New Jack City” violence, “Keanu” provides a high body count, especially during the massacre scene, which alone justifies the film’s R-rating. Basically, Peele and Key are two geeks caught in the crossfire of rival drug-lords in a vicious mob war. Very much a comedy of errors, “Keanu” focuses on a footloose kitten. This adorable brown tabby dashes evasively through this bullet-riddled gangsta saga and ties everything together while it propels the plot forward. This Warner Brothers release chronicles the efforts of two cat-friendly geeks to retrieve the eponymous kitten from some violent Hispanic and African-American gangstas. Mind you, I’m a sucker for any movie with a cat in it so I enjoyed this nonsense. Incidentally, seven kittens stood in for the titular Keanu. For the record, the filmmakers used rescued cats from the pound for the seven.
Initially, Keanu is a kitten called ‘Iglesias.’ A notorious Mexican cartel chieftain, King Diaz (Ian Casselberry of “Triple 9”), owns the frisky little fellow. He amuses himself at work with his playful pussycat. Two hardcore assassins interrupt his reverie. They look like a combination of actor Danny Trejo and a voodoo witch doctor. Known by their lethal reputation as the ‘Allentown Boys,’ Oil and Smoke Dresden are gruesome gunmen who kill without a qualm. They launch a surprise attack on Diaz’s drug manufacturing facility. (Incidentally, Peele and Key doubled up to play not only these villains but also the two protagonists Rell and Clarence.) The opening massacre scene resembled one of John Woo’s outlandish Hong Kong thrillers, along the lines of either “The Killer” or “Hard-Boiled.” These dastardly daredevils, who perform back-flips while they are blazing away with their pistols, wipe out everybody in the facility, including King after he surrenders to them. Before they eviscerate King with a knife, Oil and Smoke spot Iglesias and admire the cuddly kitten. Suddenly, the LAPD bursts in with guns drawn, and Dresdens flee. Little Iglesias flees, too. Taking it on the lam, Iglesias traipses around Los Angeles. Eventually, the hungry little critter winds up at Rell Williams’ door.
Rell (Jordan Peele) is devastated because his girlfriend has dumped him. He has been smoking large quantities of pot in a bong to alleviate his anxiety. Rell’s married cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) swings by Rell’s house and tries to console his distraught cousin. Between the time Clarence phones Rell and then finally sees him, something magical has happened to Rell. Before Clarence arrives, Rell hears somebody at his front door. When he opens it, he finds an adorable kitten mewing on his doorstep. Rechristening Iglesias as ‘Keanu,’ Rell becomes hopelessly attached to the tiny tabby. Similarly, Clarence finds Keanu captivating, too. Later, in a secondary subplot, Clarence’s wife Hannah (Nia Long of “Friday”) leaves Clarence for the weekend off. Hannah cruises out of town with their mutual friend Spencer (Rob Huebel of “Little Fockers”) on a weekend outing with Spencer’s daughter as well as her own daughter. Spencer lies to Clarence that his own wife is sick from food poisoning and cannot join them. Clearly, the adulterous Hannah is cheating on poor Clarence.
Clarence accompanies Rell to a movie that weekend. When they return to Rell’s house, they find the premises trashed. Worse, Keanu is missing! Hulka (Will Forte of TV’s “The Last Man on Earth”), an amiable drug dealer who sells Rell pot, lives across the driveway from him. Rell grilles Hulka about the burglary. Our geeky heroes learn that the infamous 17thStreet Blips smashed down his door and took Keanu. The Blips are ferocious gangbangers that have been cast out by both the Bloods and the Crips. Our geeky protagonists mislead these heinous hoodlums that they are the Allentown Boys, but they use aliases. Rell nicknames himself Tectonic, while Clarence adopts the moniker Shark Tank. They palaver with the gunslinging Blips chieftain Cheddar, (Method Man of “How High”), but Cheddar refuses to sell them Keanu. Cheddar calls Iglesias/Keanu by another name ‘New Jack’ and has him decked out in a do-rag. Rell insists Cheddar sell Keanu. Cheddar changes his mind on the condition that Tectonic and Shark Tank shadow his people on a drug deal. Cheddar promises to hand Keanu over to them as a gesture of respect if everything works out. Predictably, all hell breaks loose with our heroes struggling to avoid getting shot and recovering Keanu alive. No, Keanu doesn’t die during all the gunfights and brawls.
Ultimately, “Keanu” concerns more than just an itinerant cat. When director Atencio and scenarists Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens aren’t plotting the feline’s next foray, they skewer the clichés and stereotypes of African-American crime movies. Like the violence that punctuates it, “Keanu” bristles with profanity, particularly the slang version of the N-word. Before fadeout, several more hostile encounters occur, but our heroes triumph over these obstacles. Mind you, they don’t get off scot-free. Peele and Key’s misadventures evoke memories of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies. Suffice to say everything ends on a positive note for our protagonists.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts