Friday, April 29, 2016

Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta (Kitten): Keanu



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

In 2014 Keanu Reeves starred in a movie called John Wick, which was essentially two hours of Keanu killing gangsters because they killed his puppy. It's a good movie, but a hell of a downer.

Two years later, we have Keanu, a comedy about two very un-tough guys who must infiltrate a gang to get back a stolen kitten. I'm going to toss out this spoiler up front, to those who might choose to avoid a movie in which harm comes to a cute little animal: The kitten lives.

Stars Jordan Peele, (who co-wrote the script), and Keegan-Michael Key insist that any similarity between the two movies is entirely coincidental, but I'm not sure I buy that. Keanu seems like exactly the kind of story a comedian would write after watching John Wick while stoned. Fortunately, you don't have to be stoned to find the resulting film funny.

Peele is Rell, a depressed stoner who hasn't left his couch for days following a breakup. Key is his cousin Clarence, a slightly uptight family man who loves to listen to George Michael when he drives around in his minivan.

When a kitten shows up on Rell's doorstep, it snaps him out of his depression. He names it Keanu, ("I think it means 'cool breeze' in Hawaiian"). But unbeknownst to Rell, that kitten has a gangster past, and when it's stolen by the "17th Street Blips," (rejects from the Crips and the Bloods), Rell and Clarence decide to fool the gang's boss Cheddar, (Method Man), into believing they're killers willing to make a trade for the cat. ("We're in the market right now for, like, a gangster pet.")

Much of the humor lies in Rell and Clarence trying to pass their decidedly un-gangster selves off as the toughest guys in the hood, and it's a shtick fans of the five-season sketch show Key & Peele might recognize. But when comedians step away from successful television careers in search of big screen stardom, the results can often be mediocre, with movies that feel like sketches stretched way beyond the breaking point.

And sure, Keanu sometimes feels a little padded. But it manages to avoid the TV-to-movies curse by focusing its jokes on movie conventions. It's a parody of gangster movies like New Jack City, while also being a legitimate buddy comedy. And throughout the film I was impressed by how it was able to maintain real tension — people DO get shot in it — by having Rell and Clarence realistically react to the crazy shit going down around them.

It's also got some clever cameos, (including Keanu Reeves himself), a club called Hot Party Vixens, (or HPV for short), and of course, that kitten, which is perhaps the cutest and most talented kitten, (well, kittens; they used seven in the filming), to ever appear on film. And don't think the filmmakers don't know it! A silly twist near the end, (and after the credits; stick around), insures us that if we want a Keanu 2 that includes that kitten, we're gonna get it.

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