SXSW Review: ‘KEANU’ – A wasted opportunity for Key & Peele’s comedic talents

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James Cole Clay  // Film Critic

KEANU (work-in-progress) | 90 min | R

Director: Peter Atencio
Cast: Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Jason Mitchell and Method Man

Keegan Micheal Key and Jordan Peele’s KEANU is an utter disappointment. It had the opportunity to be a great progressive comedy that unintentionally neglects the obvious social commentary.

There’s no denying the brilliance of the comedians whose careers have stemmed from sketch comedy on MADTV to their own titular (and quite revolutionary) Comedy Central series KEY & PEELE.

This overstretched YouTube sketch (which is currently a “work-in-progress”) sits around 90 minutes and flounders even further and further down into a lifeless sitcom, rather than the painfully relevant film that seemed to be promised.

KEANU starts off as an action set-piece that depicts a drug lord and his precious kitten being stolen by two mysterious figures. Right from the start there appears to be trouble in the water, something is off– it’s either lack of focus, or quite perhaps a true vision for what is going to transpire ahead.

Cut to the main characters, Clarence (Key) and Rell (Peele) who are two cousins living vastly different lives. Clarence sings his ass off to “Father Figure” by George Michael and is single handedly keeping dockers and Tommy Hilfiger in business as he assumes the family life. Rell has just been dumped by his girlfriend (whom we never meet) and his life isn’t going anywhere as he blazes weed everyday and has 90s action film posters all around his apartment.

A few moments of their intros allude that director and long-time KEY & PEELE collaborator Peter Atencio, but every element is grossly underdeveloped to the point where a “work-in-progress” would be a compliment. Along comes the kitten that Rell names Keanu – a cute name for an even cuter kitten – however, there’s very little jokes or set pieces to back up the novelty of the name synonymous with the action star.

From Left To Right (Keegan Michael Key & Jordan Peele) (Photo Courtesy of New Line Cinema)

L-r: Keegan Michael Key & Jordan Peele. Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Skip ahead to thirty minutes of Clarence and Rell performing elongated sketches that provide nothing into their one-note personalities, or their lifestyle. We get ONE scene with Clarence’s wife (Nia Long), which is an insult to her skills as a comedic presence because she could have so easily played off of Key’s geeky character aesthetic.

The film gets little milage out of the cuteness of its titular feline, but that’s an itch you are able to scratch by picking up your phone while sitting at a red light. Once that note goes flat the duo spend the majority of the film’s run-time – yes, it feels that long and much more – playing against type with a group of hard-hitting gang bangers on drug run in a forced dynamic that wastes the talents of Jason Mitchell, a ferocious talent who was spellbinding in last year’s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.

KEANU slyly works improv into the narrative of the film, naturally, but the improvisation within the set-pieces runs in circles as the duo drone on trying to make up terms they’ve heard in BOYZ IN THE HOOD or THE WIRE.

This lamer-than-lame comedy has the talent, has the studio who knows how to handle R-rated comedies in New Line Cinema and the marketing buzz, but it’s going to take a lot more than a few trims in the editing room to save this utter disappointment when it opens April 29.