Thursday, April 28, 2016

Key & Peele -- and a feisty kitten

An unusual comic duo tries to transfer sketch humor to the big screen.

Keanu is the first big screen foray for the comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, better known to Comedy Central viewers as Key and Peele.

Key and Peele may be a bit of an acquired taste; they're comics who know how to spray their satirical bullets in a variety of directions. They can slip from nerdy middle-class black characters into gangstas without breaking stride, and -- in the bargain -- poke fun at both stereotypes.

In Keanu, Key and Peele build an action-oriented comedy around a kitten that winds up serving as the focal point for a loosely strung series of Los Angeles-based adventures that take on gang banging, the drug culture and a number of familiar movie ploys.

Not all the satire is razor sharp, but Key and Peele have mastered the art of comic teamwork, and they keep the movie silly enough to offset some -- though not all -- of the movie's seriously presented violence.

At the movie's outset, Peele's Rell has fallen into depression after a recent breakup. His mood changes when he comes into possession of a kitten who has fled an outburst of violence between rival mobs.

Happiness, however, can't last: The cat -- which Rell names Keanu -- is captured by a drug czar named Cheddar (Method Man), who runs a gang called The 17th Street Blips.

Rell and his cousin Clarence (Key) embark on a search for the cat by posing as a couple of thugs known as the Allentown Assassins. Meanwhile, the real Allentown Assassins stalk the movie's perimeter.

In full gangsta mode, Peele does what could be taken for a first-rate Ice Cube imitation. Key's switch to a gangsta pose can be amusing because he seldom loses sight of the very conventional father and husband that Clarence really is.

Director Peter Atencio doesn't quite know how to bring the right comic spin to the movie's action, and, as sketch comics, Key and Peele haven't found a way totally to migrate their skills to the big screen.

Still, there are some good bits to be found, notably one in which Clarence tries to instruct skeptical hoods about the musical wonders of George Michael.

Nia Long appears as Clarence's wife, a woman who conveniently goes away for the weekend, leaving Clarence to look for some non-family fun. And Tiffany Haddish portrays Hi-C, a hard-boiled woman attached to Cheddar's crew.

And, yes, Keanu (or the kittens who played him) has as much personality as any of the characters, as well as an inevitable and much exploited "cute" factor that even the baddest of bad asses can't seem to resist.

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