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Keanu Review: A Brutally Funny Comedy With the Universal Appeal of Kittens

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4 out of 5 stars.

It takes a lot to get me to go watch a comedy in theaters. For me, the genre is just too hit-or-miss to be worth splurging on a movie ticket most of the time. So, it’s a testament to the marketing buildup for Keanu that I scrambled to my local theater to see it opening day. I was not disappointed.

As both an animal lover and a critic who’s sick of kidnapped women and/or children being used as plot devices, a movie about two men risking their lives to rescue a kitten was never not going to win my heart … especially with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the kings of socially insightful comedy and intersectionality, at the helm.

Keanu is a smart and brutally funny movie that utilizes the universal love for pets to pluck at heartstrings without turning saccharine.

Key and Peele are endearing and hilarious as Clarence and Rell, two flawed but likable men prepared to go to Hell and back for Rell’s cat, Keanu. Though Rell comes close to fitting the man-child archetype we’ve seen far too much of lately, the movie sidesteps the usual man-learns-to-grow-up character arc by establishing early on that it’s Keanu who inspires Rell to function as an adult. Viewers who understand the co-dependent relationship between human and pet can relate, and those who can’t at least have a reason to feel invested in Keanu’s wellbeing.

The movie’s only real stumbling block is its pacing. Keanu’s story structure is episodic, in a similar vein to Pineapple Express and Superbad. The characters travel from place to place, and a lot of scenes center around a joke or topic of conversation without moving the plot forward.

However, while Pineapple Express and Superbad had a certain balls-to-the-wall insanity that kept their meandering plots energized, Keanu’s humor is dry (don’t let the trailer fool you), and as a consequence, the momentum lags.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying Keanu isn’t funny. It is. Oh … it is. Key and Peele are masters at utilizing comedy to poke at social norms, bigotry, and human incongruities. That’s just not the brand of humor that necessarily elicits the most belly laughs. Keanu deals heavily with black identity. Clarence and Rell take on alter egos, Shark Tank and Techtonic, to survive the shadier side of L.A. and then bicker about the morality of their performance choices. Lawrence makes George Michael fans out of some drug dealers by convincing them that he’s black. There is a lot to enjoy and a lot to unpack about this film.

The humor is biting and brilliant and never resorts to Seth McFarlane-level shock value. The characters are nuanced enough that they avoid falling into archetypes, and the bond between Rell and Keanu is genuinely heartfelt. Just don’t go in expecting to leave on a laughing high.

Petra Halbur is a professional over-thinker with an abiding love for movie scores, campy TV shows and broken, twisted characters she’d never get along with in real life. You can follow her on Twitter.

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