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Keanu Review

By  · Published on May 2nd, 2016

Keanu Shows That Sketches Should Stay Short

Stretched Jokes Reveal Tired Tropes

Even the most absurd movies operate within an internal logic. Whether they’re Looney Tunes or Shakespeare, the film universe has some physical possibilities and metaphysical causality. Logic can be cartoonish and wacky (something like The Lego Movie), semi-serious and attempting to replicate our world (an action movie like Die Hard), or overly-serious for humor, taking the implications of genre movie actions to their real-world conclusions (something like Tropic Thunder).

Keanu, the kitten rescue movie helmed by and starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, hits both extremes and never the middle. That means it’s constantly jarring your inner ear for humor, resulting in the comedic equivalent of motion sickness. Is this hyper-real, mocking other movies for their lack of consequences? Or is this slapstick nonsense where a kitten is a kitten forever?

Maybe if this was one of Key & Peele’s ten-minute skits from their Comedy Central show, we wouldn’t have time to be caught with such questions, but Keanu runs a full hour and forty minutes.

It’s not that the jokes aren’t funny – they often are, especially those applying white collar team building exercises to drug dealers – it’s that each turns into a stuffed equine punching bag by the end of the film. The drug dealers themselves are the film’s biggest asset besides the short-form comedic strengths of its leads. Tiffany Haddish, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jason Mitchell, and Jamar Neighbors all get moments of sublime weirdness and absurdity that I wish were fleshed out or at least capitalized on.

The film even looks somewhat interesting with the flat field of depth and saturated colors of a Grand Theft Auto game, but there’re only so many jokes you can make about saving an adorable cat from gangbangers. Key and Peele are not from this lifestyle. They have a hard time fitting in. Things get out of hand. And the kitten is very cute in its brief moments – including an ongoing (like every joke) kitten calendar joke that seems like an homage to a spoof that teamed up Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland before Rick & Morty.

However, with vapid, troubling gender and identity politics that escape the duo’s parodic bite filling up the majority of non-joke screen time, the film runs out of steam and leaves us with an empty, outdated star vehicle. A drug deal gone wrong cuts back and forth between two overwrought joke scenarios that could barely have functioned as skits in their own right for what seems to be as long as the entire 1985–1986 season of Saturday Night Live. That was the one with Anthony Michael Hall.

The jokes barely cling to the narrative, hanging on like a loose refrigerator magnets, while the film invests a significant amount of time to a story that merely serves the purpose of differentiating this from one of their skits and to justify its status as a feature-length film. Along the way to rescue this kitten, the plot focuses on the two men’s sex lives in the midst of their fish-out-of-water story. Peele’s character is dumped at the start of the film and trains the adorable kitten to claw at his ex’s photos, leading to the uncomfortable climactic refrain “get that bitch.”

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We also get some bro-magnon flirtation when the usually submissive, quieter character played by Key effectively punches a bully in the face so that his wife will find him attractive. The classic “Back to the Future rape-prevention seduction”. It’s just one confused aspect of a confused movie, but when you have two comedians that had so much progressiveness in their TV show, why regress now that you have to bow to the big screen? It’s a question for audiences, for studios, and for creators – or at least it will be when you watch this film, filling the time between the tenth and eleventh time you hear the same joke.

A clumsy ending, piling on the clichés without the jokes, reverts whatever interesting things the film had to say about masculinity and George Michael (a surprisingly large factor in this film) back to gangster machismo basics. It’s like it wants to remind us that it’s a stupid comedy that bit off more than it could chew, scenario-wise, and, in so doing, had its mouth so full it couldn’t say anything.

It’s a funny skit stretched too thin, revealing the troubling avenues that its creators fall back on to hold it all together. A knock-knock joke can be funny. Telling one knock-knock joke over the course of an hour and a half may be too much for most people to stomach.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).