Sketch comics/stand-ups taking the lead in their first movie is in some ways a right of passage. Steve Martin’s The Jerk probably stands as the high water-mark,* but most have some sort of value in terms of being a look at a performer’s comedic worldview while they’re still hungry. Take Billy Madison as an example. It may not be regarded as a great film by a lot of people but, in the words of Undeclared, there’s something a bit “punk rock” about it. Something that diminished until Adam Sandler turned into a dead-eyed, haunted-looking shell of a human being.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been around a while, individually working on projects and appearing in films and TV shows, but Keanu is their first film following the break-out success of their sketch show on Comedy Central. Personally I haven’t watched much of their stuff. Just a few bits here and there which have virally wafted my way courtesy of Facebook. Of course I loved their Gremlins 2 bit, being a huge fan of that film. But my limited TV viewing hasn’t drifted that way. That said, this film seems very much an extension of what I’ve seen from them, so I’m going to make the not-so-wild assume that it is very much tapped into that same vein of “firsts.”
The plot itself makes some less than subtle allusions to being a goof of the Liam Neeson Taken trilogy as the pair attempt to get back the kitten of the title when he’s stolen. It turns out this particular cat’s cuteness is a bit infectious because it becomes a running gag that everyone he comes in contact with becomes so enamored with him that they lose all common sense. However, apart from that basic framework there really isn’t that much to tie the film thematically to the ongoing saga of the man the internet has dubbed “John Taken.”
In fact, much of the film seems to settle into a much better (and certainly funnier) version of the central conceit of the maligned Will Farrell/Kevin Hart vehicle Get Hard, as the duo attempts to bluff their way through the criminal underground. Or at least the Hollywood version of ‘gangsta culture,’ though it seems more authentic than some depictions, despite the comedic aspects.
The main issue with the film is uneven pacing. There is an extended sequence in the middle of the film which I think best exemplifies this; it features a pretty good cameo, but drags on and on as it spends its time divided between the inside and outside of a Hollywood estate. Unfortunately, things are much funnier in the car and, at least in my case, I found myself regretting every return to the interior; up until a fantastic gag caps the scene. (One which is ultimately negated in the wrap-up, but I’m trying not to focus on that.)
It’s great that Key and Peele take things in a different direction than what one may expect by abandoning the idea of a strict parody of their inspiration for the story (though I could see a very different, equally funny movie coming from sticking to that concept) but they still seem to have a hard time filling the 90 minutes of the film. They come close enough that one can’t deny their success though, at crafting an overall entertaining experience that captures their spirit.
(Three and a half damns given out of five)
*Mostly because Monty Python’s initial offering was their recycled sketch film, …And Now for Something Completely Different.