Gettin’ the kitten5/4/2016
I have never been the world’s biggest Key and Peele fan. The comedy duo of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are wildly popular on Comedy Central and in their YouTube clips, but, outside of a few specific gems, I have personally found their humor to be middling at best. So color me surprised to find the pair responsible for the best comedy movie of 2016 thus far.
“Keanu” is centered around a stupidly, adorably simple premise: a tabby kitten. As anyone who has spent more than a few minutes on the Internet can tell you, people go nuts about cats nowadays, and “Keanu” features an impossibly adorable main character. There are obviously several kittens that fill the role, but seeing little Keanu wandering around, just doing kitten things is ridiculously enjoyable — doubly-so during one of the slow-motion kitten action sequences.
OK, OK, the film features more than just a cat. The story centers around a pair of drug cartel hitmen, Smoke and Oil Dresden (Key and Peele in heavy makeup), known collectively as “The Allentown Boys.” As the film opens, the boys break into a rival gang’s make house and kill everyone inside, taking only the leader’s kitten as booty.
Now is a good time for a small aside: as you might expect from a film written by, and starring, a sketch comedy duo, “plot” is not the film’s strong point. It gets ridiculous. Just laugh and go with it.
After the opening scene, we are re-introduced to Key and Peele, who also play main characters Clarence and Rell, respectively. Clarence is a suburbanite with an affinity for George Michael and whose lack of spine is affecting his marriage, and Rell is a stoned slacker who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. As Rell is in the throes of his post-breakup depression, he finds Keanu the kitten on his doorstep.
Rell takes Keanu in and forms a tight bond with the kitten, which drives the rest of the story after Rell’s apartment is broken into and Keanu is cat-napped yet again. Rell and Clarence track the thieves down to a gang that operates out of a downtown strip club. The pair head down there in an effort to get Keanu back, ultimately posing as The Allentown Boys in an effort to gain the gang leader’s trust and get the kitten back. Basically, everyone in the movie really loves this kitten.
What makes the film refreshing in its humor is its almost complete lack of reliance on visual gags to sell itself. There is no gross-out humor and no reliance on a ton of pratfalls or exposed male genitalia to gain a cheap laugh. Drawing heavily on Key and Peele’s background as sketch comics, every scene plays out like a vignette that moves forward with hilarious dialog and an adorable kitten. Even within the parameters of a preposterous set-up, the film features some genuinely funny writing and manages to keep a decent pace to the end.
The film slows a bit in the middle but never enough to become boring or tedious. As the third act plays out, the film gains speed and hurtles itself toward an over-the-top ending that is a lot of fun to watch. There are sure to be people who cannot manage to enjoy themselves in this movie, but those people should be looked upon with pity because Key and Peele have managed to take a silly, simple premise and turn it into living, breathing comedy gold. CV