Mild-mannered cousins Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) find themselves embroiled in a massively dangerous situation when they pose as a pair of lethal assassins, the “Allentown Boys”, in order to retrieve an adorable cat named Keanu.
Key and Peele are America’s answer to Enfield and Whitehouse: a TV double-act with a knack for riotously funny skits and memorable characters. Unlike Enfield and Whitehouse, they’ve done a riff on “paint titties” and are strangely obsessed with Liam Neeson. Amped-up action comedy Keanu sees them transfer from the small screen to the big one, with mixed results.
The third act is all but devoid of the pair’s trademark edgy wit.
They play two roles a-piece: dweeby relatives Rell and Clarence, and the deranged, dreadlocked gangster assassins they impersonate in an attempt to get back the titular cat (it’s complicated). It’s the latter duo that appear first, in an impressively kinetic, Matrix-style action sequence that makes clear Key and Peele’s intention to make a proper film, rather than just a feature-length sketch. Keanu is not just impressive visually (a drug trip later on, induced by an uber-powerful new narcotic named “Holy Shit”, is equally virtuoso), but for the first hour it brims over with sharp ideas and delightfully ridiculously situations. There is a corporate team-bonding exercise with criminal lowlifes, a mad foray to Anna Faris’ house (no sign of Chris Pratt) and an extended appreciation of George Michael, as Clarence, having adopted the gangster monicker “Shark Tank”, attempts to explain away the music selection in his car.
But while it’s smart on race and initially squeezes plenty of juice from its mistaken-identity set-up (“You sound like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy!” hisses Rell to Clarence as suspicious gangsters look on), the fizz runs out long before the end. The third act is all but devoid of the pair’s trademark edgy wit, descending into generic action guff and unsurprising revelations. It’s a shame, but there’s plenty of promise here. On a side-note, Keanu features an inevitable reference to Liam Neeson; let’s hope there’s an actual role for him in the next Key and Peele joint.
Considering it’s the debut of one of TV’s hottest double-acts, Keanu is a slight disappointment. But there’s plenty of funny stuff, and George Michael fans in particular should have faith, faith, faith.