Keanu Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man. Directed by Peter Atencio. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Movies adapted from sketch-comedy shows rarely work, as an endless number of Saturday Night Live spin-offs, from Coneheads to A Night at the Roxbury to It’s Pat, have made abundantly clear. Still, there was reason to feel hopeful about Keanu, the debut film from the sketch-comedy team of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, better known as Key and Peele. Keanu isn’t based on a sketch from their Comedy Central show (which completed its five-season run last fall)—it merely provides the pair with a big-screen vehicle, developed from scratch. That seemed promising. Unfortunately, whatever its genesis, the movie plays exactly like a bloated sketch, taking a single high-concept joke and truly beating it into the ground.
Does the title refer to Mr. Reeves? Sort of. Keanu, an adorable kitten named after the actor, is the newly beloved pet of Rell (Peele, who also co-wrote the script), a depressed stoner mourning the girlfriend who recently dumped him. Unbeknownst to Rell, however, Keanu has another devoted fan in drug kingpin Cheddar (Method Man), who steals the kitty from Rell’s house. Devastated, Rell and his friend Clarence (Key) set out to recover their feline friend, only to discover that their only means of doing so involves joining Cheddar’s gang. Which is a slight problem, since they’re the two least thug-like people imaginable.
And that’s the movie, basically: a feature-length version of the famous “we bad” scene from Stir Crazy, with the additional frisson that derives from both men being black. (As if to acknowledge this, Rell tells Clarence that his normal voice sounds like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white person.) Keanu himself all but vanishes, and there are only so many laughs that Key and Peele can wring from the spectacle of two nerds desperately, clumsily trying to be gangsta. Various gags, like Clarence’s love for George Michael’s “Father Figure,” get repeated until all comedy has been leeched from them, and the movie as a whole feels about twice as long as it actually is. Some terrific comedians simply belong on television, working in shorter, punchier formats. There’s no shame in that.