*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Peter Atencio
STARS Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Yes, there are references to both Keanu Reeves and The Matrix in Keanu — heck, there’s even a gag related to the actor’s dopey action flick Point Break. First and foremost, though, the film is a cinematic coming-out party for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the popular comedians who hope to translate their television success into a motion picture career.
They’re off to a good start with Keanu, which may be ragged but delivers a hefty number of sizable laughs. The title refers to an adorable kitten who’s such a heart-melting cutie that everyone who meets him wants to adopt him. Initially the pet of a drug kingpin who gets killed, he ends up in the care of Rel (Peele), a pothead who finds comfort in the kitty following a nasty breakup. Rel’s best friend Clarence (Key), an upstanding guy with a fondness for George Michael tunes, is told by his wife (Nia Long) that he needs to cut loose and have more adventures in life — that’s exactly what happens when Keanu is kidnapped by yet another drug dealer, the intimidating Cheddar (Method Man), and Clarence accompanies Rel as the pair pose as hardcore gangsters (“Shark Tank” and “Tectonic”) in order to locate and rescue Keanu.
Yes, it’s the old “fish out of water” and ”mistaken identity” templates, but director Peter Atencio (helmer of the Key and Peele TV series) and scripters Alex Rubens (the show’s co-writer and co-producer) and Peele manage to come up with enough good lines (love Clarence being told that “you talk like Richard Pryor doing an imitation of a white guy”) and clever set-pieces (the movie-homage calendar is uproarious and should be sold in stores) to show that this particular well hasn’t dried up quite yet. Certainly, there are some bits that are only so-so — Anna Faris turns up as Anna Faris, but her appearance lacks the punch of, say, Bill Murray as Bill Murray in Zombieland, and can we please call a moratorium on drug-induced dream sequences? — but between the breezy plotting, the high hit-to-miss ratio, and the appealing turns by the two leads, Keanu is frequently the cat’s meow.