Sunday, May 29, 2016


Alternate Title:  You're A Kitty!

One sentence synopsis:    Two suburban friends impersonate deadly gangsters so as to retrieve their pet kitten.

Things Havoc liked: After the end of That Mitchell and Webb Look in 2011, my favorite sketch comedy show (an award nearly as prestigious as the Emmys) became that of Key & Peale, two veterans of Mad TV who decided to strike out on their own with a series considerably less restrained than the above. Television (obviously) isn't my primary source of entertainment, but I made time for those two, and when I heard there was to be a full length movie made from them, I... immediately wrote it off. Why? Because movies based around sketch comedy bits almost invariably suck, as anyone who has watched the dismal parade of post-Wayne's World Saturday Night Live movies can attest to. Still, it has been quite a while since SNL decided to try their hand at the sketch-turned-movie genre (the last one was MacGruber, in 2010, which itself was the first one in a decade. Maybe things had improved since the days of It's Pat or The Ladies Man, or maybe Key & Peale, being far better comedians than the average denizens of SNL, would have a better shot at making something watchable.

Keanu stars Key and Peele as two suburban, middle class black men in Los Angeles, the former an uptight family man with a wife and kids, the latter a slacker who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, and who comes into possession, through strange and convoluted circumstances, of a tiny kitten which he names Keanu for reasons I don't pretend to understand. Once the kitten is kidnapped by the leader of a nearby street gang (Rapper and periodic actor Method Man, who is better at this than most of his peers), the scheme that Key and Peele come up with is to impersonate a pair of mysterious, lethal gangster/hit men (The "Allentown Boys") and pretend to be thugs so as to fool the gangsters and rescue their beloved pet. None of this is that unusual as sketch comedy movies go, indeed if anything, it's basically a remake of the execrable 2001 Orlando Jones/Eddie Griffin comedy Double Take, a movie that is slightly more funny than child molestation, but only just (then again, Double Take was in turn based on the 1957 British film Across the Bridge, so perhaps this rabbit hole is deeper than we know....) Keanu, on the other hand, does not have two blithering idiots as its lead actors, and does much better with what amounts to the same material, as the hapless Key and Peele try to maintain the fiction that they are actually hardcore gangsters. Indeed, there is some actual fun to be had here, particularly an extended sequence with Key managing to explain away the George Michael CDs in his car by convincing the unknowing gangsters that George Michael is actually a hardcore gangster, and that his songs are the epitome of thug life. Key and Peele also pull double duty as the real Allentown Boys, disguised in thick wigs and dark glasses, whose gimick involves picking up and putting down the instruments with which they intend to torture their victims to death so many times that even the orchestra gets tired of providing endless suspenseful stings.

Nor does the supporting cast let the film down overall. Anna Faris, of all people, takes on an Entourage-style role as herself, only as a version of herself who is also a drugged out lunatic who unhesitatingly pulls swords on armed gangsters when they try to collect their payment for the drugs she is buying and leave (this may not be such a stretch). Method Man, meanwhile, plays what amounts to the straight man in the ensuing insanity, enabling his character to be the punch line for a whole series of in-jokes relating to his work on The Wire. Other venerable character actors, such as Luis Guzmán and and Will Forte, take on smaller roles, generally in the form of extremely serious gangsters and killers who become highly attached to the kitten in question and are ready to pile bodies to the skies to ensure that they get to keep it. The film also features, as was probably inevitable, the vocal stylings of Keanu Reeves himself, who plays the titular kitten in a sequence of outstanding trippyness, wherein one of our heroes takes a hit from a new designer superdrug called "Holy Shit", and hallucinates not only conversations with Ted Theodore Logan, but does so as part of the least strange element of many different hallucinagenic events, including appearing inside the 1997 Music Video for Faith.

Yeah, it's one of those movies...

Things Havoc disliked: The problem with sketch comedy characters elevated to a full length feature film is that what works as a five minute gag-scene does not typically work as a 98-minute feature, either because the joke becomes too belabored, because of the need to include an actual plot, or, more commonly, both. Key and Peele start ahead of the curve in this regard, as the movie is not based on a particular set of characters from the show, but around new ones (best I can tell) made up for the purposes of the film, studding them with elements from famous bits from the show (including a discussion of "the Liam Neesons"). But even with that, it has to be said that the material here feels a bit thin, as though despite coming in at less than 100 minutes, the authors, which include the leads as well as show-writer Alex Rubens, could not think up enough to tide the film over. The joke of these two dorks pretending to be gangsters starts to run dry about the 2/3s mark, despite the movie making active efforts to spice things up with more and more over-the-top violence and gratuitous slo-mo sequences.

Granted, none of the above is the death knell of the movie or anything, but it forces the filmmakers to find filler to get the movie to its ordained end. Unfortunately, that filler tends to come in the form of either completely unnecessary sub-plots or poorly-written characters. The former takes the form of Key's wife, played by Nia Long, who takes the weekend off with a neighbor and calls in periodically to ask how things are going with her husband's "weekend fun". A sub-plot involving her being propositioned by the neighbor is never fleshed out, and goes nowhere, serving nothing but the burning up of a couple more minutes of screen-time. Other minutes are consumed with Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), the token gangster girl in the street gang, with whom the recently-single Peele begins an obligatory relationship founded on deception, etc, etc... It's not that Haddish is particularly bad in the role, but there's really no reason she's there, as the film already has several serviceable straight men (or women), and the relationship angle is poorly-crafted and a distraction from the funny elements. Of course it's hard to call this much of a pity given that a distraction was the exact purpose for which the character was added, as a desperate attempt to get the movie to feature-length runtime before they ran out of jokes.

Final thoughts:     Still, I'd rather see a movie half-filled with full-power jokes than fully-filled with half-power ones, if you know what I mean, and when Keanu works, it really does work, far better than the damp squibs that are the mainstay of this sort of film. The movie does sort of race out the door before anyone can realize that it has no encore material, but again, that's probably better than overstaying its welcome.

Overall, I would not call Keanu a must-see movie or anything, but for those who are fans of the show, as I was, there's nothing here that's going to convince you that you were wrong to like them in the first place. And given the month I've had, that's not as minor a victory as it sounds.

Final Score:  6/10

Next Time:  "The best movie since Under The Skin", say the reviews.  Oh goody...

No comments:

Post a Comment

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

Let's get back into the swing of things, shall we? The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup Ant-Man and the Wasp Alternate Ti...