So I’m a few days into a Las Vegas holiday, I’m already sunburnt and I need something inexpensive to do before I eventually splurge on the Strip in a few days time.
I was advised by my friend Jeanne, who is a Vegas local, that there is a newly-opened, small, but awesome, cinema at a nearby mall. Myself & Mrs L set off with fairly low expectations to see Keanu, a film about a cute kitten who wears a bandana and a gold chain and is in the middle of an ownership dispute between a couple of regular guys and several gangs.
An odd premise, I’ll forgive you for thinking. However, there is a lot to like about this movie. The film is based around Jordan Peele, who plays Rell/Tectonic (we’ll get to the second names later) who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and is going through the clichéd “my life is over” blues, very similar to the start of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Attempting to console Rell is Clarence (aka Shark Tank), played by Keegan-Michael Key, who is en route to Rell for a bit of brotherly love, when Rell hears a strange scratching sound at his door.
He opens the door to find a little kitten, whom unbeknownst to Rell, has just escaped a gangland hit by the Allentown Boys at a local drugs den. Rell instantly snaps out of his depression as he takes on the Kitten as his own and names him Keanu, although there is little offered to explain why he went for that name… It just works however.
Skip forward a couple of weeks, Keanu is fully integrated into Rell’s home and as Clarence’s wife is going away for the weekend with a male neighbour (Errr, wtf?) the boys decide to hit the latest Liam Neeson movie. In the drive home they both get into a debate about which of them is the most lame, or more specifically, the most white in their behavior. Rell is the stereotypical stoner type, however more from a white person’s perspective, he is unemployed, bums around his apartment all day which is adorned in movie posters of his favorite gangsta movies such as New Jack City.
Clarence is blue-collar and as polite as you can imagine and has an unusual penchant for George Michael & Wham, not too dissimilar to Deadpool, however it plays a slightly more significant role in the overall arc of this movie. So they debate who is the most lame and to be fair they are both pretty dull and uninteresting at this stage but as they arrive back at Rell’s place they discover it has been ransacked and Keanu is missing. They approach Rell’s weed dealer, who conveniently lives next door and are able to deduce that the heavies meant to target the dealer and not Rell.
This sends Rell into a rage and he drags Clarence to the strip club where the 17th Street Blips are known to be based (Blips based on a gang bigger the bloods and the crips), however they have no plan whatsoever on how to deal with these guys when they arrive. They are instantly earmarked by Hi-Cee, a female gang member, on arrival due to their clean dress and lack of street cred. This forces the guys to improvise on the spot, and suddenly the movie comes to life as Clarence retorts in hilariously over the top gangsta lingo to try and earn her trust. They demand to see the boss of the gang ,Cheddar (played by Method Man), whom we learn has adopted Keanu as his own, dressed him in the Bandana and Gold Chain as depicted in the movie posters and called him New Jack.
Cheddar smells that the guys are not what they try to portray, which are heavy-handed gangbangers looking for work, but the guys step it up even further on the mimicking of gang culture, particularly pushed by Rell who is the more angry, cold blooded of the 2 and Cheddar eventually presumes they are the notorious Allentown Boys (or Allentown Niggas as he prefers), the 2 super Assassins from the opening scene of the movie (who are actually also played by Peele & Key).
The guys keep up the act and reveal their gang names as Tectonic & Shark Tank, and ask for Keanu as a mark of respect if they complete a drug sale for Cheddar. The boys take Cheddar’s fledgling gang members (including Hi-Cee) on the job where they demonstrate their faux-deadly skills to hilarious effect, including some Matrix-sequel wall running which is so sloppy that it really took the roof off the cinema with laughs!
Rell takes Hi-Cee to deliver their merchandise whilst the rest of the crew stay in the Van (Clarence’s all family vehicle) and listen to George Michael. Clarence hilariously spins the lyrical content of songs like Father-Figure and the break up of Wham/Andrew Ridgley’s fading career being a metaphor for George Michael taking him out, and was never seen again. This hilariously results in one of the gang members getting a George Michael tattoo, not even realizing that he isn’t black.
The drug deal is a strange part of the movie, as Rell delivers to Anna Faris (Scary Movie) who is playing herself and the deal eventually goes awry and Hi-Cee pops them all off as they escape with the movie, whilst Rell has to pretend he is unfazed by the carnage. They eventually get back to the strip club and have a celebratory party, the gang fully convinced at this stage that Tectonic & Shark Tank are legit. The boys approach Cheddar, asking for Keanu however he wants more work from them in return.
This sends the boys plan spiraling out of control and they eventually kidnap Keanu and run, but bump into the real Allentown Boys who also want Keanu for themselves. Whilst tied up and about to be dismembered by the Allentown boys, Keanu bites through Rell’s ropes (as he’s been traiedn to scratch pictures of Rell’s ex) and Rell is able to one-up the heavies as they pick through various implements to torture the guys. This ends up with the boys crossing the line of being faux-gangstas as they actually shoot the Allentown Boys in self-defense, but no sooner do they escape, they run in Cheddar’s gang who now know the truth about Tectonic & Shark Tank.
The gang deliver them to Bacon (Luiz Guzman), a Mexican super drug boss whose brother is killed by the Allentown Boys in the opening scene of the movie, and is the real owner of Keanu (actually called Iglesias). Cheddar passes the boys off as the real Allentown Boys whom Bacon has a massive contract out on. Just as it seems all is lost for our protagonists, Cheddar refuses to hand over Keanu/New Jack/Iglesias and a mass shoot out erupts with most of the gang members on both sides dying.
Eventually the film closes out with a car chase between Cheddar, Bacon & Rell who, are all after Keanu. They crash eventually and show down, just as Cheddar appears to have the upper hand as his remaining crew arrive, Hi-Cee reveals herself as an undercover cop and arrests everyone, including Rell & Clarence. However at this point Rell & Hi-Cee have become suitably close enough to warrant a romantic interest and she promises to testify favorably on his behalf, but ultimately they go down for the murder of the Allentown Boys, with Hi-Cee adopting Keanu until Rell gets out.
In summary: This is such an odd movie, because despite it being written and starring two black actors in Peele & Key, the humour is definitely aimed at a white audience, or at a push, a non-urban black audience for lack of a better word.
That in most instances would be a damning critique, but it’s not. It’s actually genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and whilst the first 15mins I found the protagonists dull, once they start faking it, they’re very entertaining in a hugely Alan Partridge-esque cringeworthy fashion.
Keanu himself doesn’t really feature a whole bunch, but he is the central plot figure that connects the various factions and is really adorable in a combination of real animal acting and a bit of silly CGI. The various factions allure to Keanu is somewhat inexplicable, other than Rell perhaps but you do find yourself falling in love with the little guy whenever he shows up on screen.
It’s a shame this won’t be coming to the UK but I think it’s one that is incredibly hard to market to an audience that has no familiarity to Peele & Key, who are seemingly being pushed as the new Wayans Brothers, in the United States. Hopefully it might make it to streaming sites as a home-only release and it will definitely provide lots of laughs if you enjoy a truly silly comedy with a dash of cuteness for good measure.