As a rule, moviegoers aren’t greatly encouraged by the studios to look closely at the boxes in which their entertainment is pre-packaged and sold to them. Case in point, buddy action comedies starring African American protagonists tend to have them playing either a cop, a goofy outlaw or a goofy outlaw who secretly wants to become a cop in an interesting simpatico with the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ paradigm. To illustrate this tendency we have Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys”, Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop” and “48 Hours”, Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon” and more recently, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart in “Ride Along”. This observation is not any sort of complaint against these films. On the contrary, all of these movies are incredible and the comedic talent is prime – if not in many cases iconic. Nevertheless, when it comes to what we are allowed to see when it comes to action films starring two guys of color who are supposed to be funny, why can’t we see something a little outside of that box that is both funny and fresh as a new, more modern classic? Didn’t they do this with the “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” franchise? Yes, but while John Cho and Kal Penn, the actors who played Harold and Kumar respectively, are excellent, Cho is of Korean ancestry and Penn is Indian – leaving things once again in the minus column when it comes to African Americans doing this kind of movie and doing it well. However, with “Keanu” we might finally have something to get excited about with Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) – two ordinary guys who ‘happen’ to be African American and miraculously get caught up in extremely atypical circumstances (gang war, contract killers, strippers and drugs) trying to do something extremely ordinary – retrieve a lost kitten.
For those who have a problem with the whole kitten angle as a concept, perhaps you aren’t familiar with the slightly off kilter but always hilarious yet socially aware comedy of “Keanu’s” stars, Jordan Peele, (who co-wrote “Keanu” with his longtime writing partner Alex Rubens), and Keegan-Michael Key, creators of the wildly popular but now defunct Comedy Central series, “Key & Peele.” To watch “Key & Peele” sketches online is to see something akin to the excitement and magic that buzzed around Eddie Murphy’s early SNL work like “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood”, or the work of Damon Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Jim Carrey during the first season of “In Living Color.” It’s comedy that comes from a place just left of center, imbued with that spark that hints at a special something that is much much more than any sketch series – provided the conduit from television to cinema is complex and built to last. To that end, the way that “Keanu” has been carefully crafted with the deft utilization of core Key & Peele alumni in co-writer Alex Rubens and director Paul Atencio, the code has been effectively cracked what regard to what is needed for genuine success with audiences – both those familiar with “Key & Peele” and those unfamiliar with the comedic brand. All the same, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures need to be greatly commended for taking a gamble on this movie that is anything but another formulaic equation, and packs a strong punch to the funny bone due to the heart and soul left on the table in the making.
Nevertheless, don’t get it twisted. “Keanu” isn’t some sort of overly precious treatise on action movie making, nor (thankfully!) is it a “message” film when it comes to comedy, race, kittens or anything else. Mostly, it’s just a really fun romp with some on point comedic turns not only from Key and Peele, but an inventive and inspired cast in Will Forte, Luis Guzman, Method Man, Nia Long and a rare find in it’s leading lady, cinematic newcomer Tiffany Haddish.
Indeed, as one of “Keanu’s” greatest successes out of many, it will likely have more than a few viewers wondering just what will happen next to Rell, Clarence, Keanu and the gang after the final credit roll.
“Keanu” starring Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Luis Guzman, Will Forte and Nia Long is currently playing in theaters nationwide.