Key & Peele’s first foray into feature films is hilarious and exhausting and hysterical and tiresome. Keanu suffers from what many comedies do: A funny premise that’s stretched beyond its elasticity point. To its credit, however, Keanu gets more mileage out of its conceit than most, and each time the film falls into a lull, it is able to find a second and third and fourth wind, even if — by the end — viewers are left hoping that the movie will just run out of air already. If there’s one thing a limited conceit should not do, it is fall prey to multiple-ending syndrome.
Keanu begins with a shootout in a church. The Anderson Brothers (Key and Peele in bad Underworld-like trench coats and terrible wigs) murder numerous members of a drug cartel in funny over-the-top fashion, leaving a lot of blood splattered on the walls and only one survivor: An adorable kitten that escapes and finds its way into the home — and life — of Rell (Jordan Peele). Rell is going through a miserable break-up and bonding with the kitten brings him a new sense of purpose, until the 17th Street Blips (“the ones who got kicked out of the Bloods and the Crips”) mistake his home for that of a neighboring drug dealer (Will Forte) and steal Keanu.
In turn, Rell and his suburban middle-class cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) pose as the aforementioned Anderson brothers in order to convince the leader of the Blips, Cheddar (Method Man), to give back Keanu. Cheddar, however, insists that they go on a few drug runs before agreeing. The hapless Rell and Clarence, in turn, unwittingly end up in a number of crimes in their pursuit of the kidnapped kitty.
Like most episodes of Key & Peele, the movie is a hit and miss collection of scenes that often feel like loosely stitched together sketches. The hits, however, are immensely funny, including a drug party at Ana Farris’ house and a lesson in the music of George Michael, delivered by Clarence to a minivan full of attentive gang members.
Nonetheless, Keanu is not the consistently riotous John Wick parody many of us had hoped to come out of Key & Peele’s first feature film, but the laughs are frequent enough to offset the failures. There are a lot of fun movie references and some really smart comedy, especially in Key and Peele’s talents for blowing up racial stereotypes, even if some of those attempts explode in their hands. It’s not going to be a comedy that’s frequently cited — or even remembered — a year from now, but for the duration of its runtime, it’s fitfully funny and occasionally inspired.