I didn't know we were looking, but I think we may have found our Martin and Lewis.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis started out on the radio, and during the early days of television they were the go-to guys for good-natured, mass-market humor. Dean was the baby-faced crooner, and Jerry was the manic comic savant. They were funny, but their humor was not particularly barbed or boundary pushing like their then lesser-known contemporary, Lenny Bruce.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hosted five seasons of sketch comedy on Comedy Central, which is the 21st century equivalent of starting out on radio. Their good-natured, character-based humor hit a chord with Key's Luthor, President Obama's "anger translator," who said what Obama is really thinking underneath his diplomatic exterior.
Keanu is Key and Peele's first joint outing since the comedy duo's show ended last September. The premise is the first joke. Like Keanu Reeves' 2014 vehicle John Wick, the incident that sets off the plot is a home invasion that results in violence towards animals. In Keanu's case, it was a beagle named Daisy. In Peele's case, it's a cat named Keanu. Peele plays Rell, a schlubby L.A. loser who just got dumped by his girlfriend when he finds the cute little kitten on his doorstep. Unbeknownst to him and his cousin Clarence (Key), the kitten belonged to a drug lord who was just whacked by the Allentown Boys, a pair of assassins — also played by Key and Peele — based on the Cousins from Breaking Bad.
When Clarence's wife and daughter go out of town a couple of weeks later, Rell convinces him to go out for a night on the town — which to Rell means seeing a Liam Neeson movie and heading back to his apartment to smoke some weed. But when they arrive at the apartment, they find it has been trashed, and little Keanu is missing. Rell enlists Clarence on a mission to retrieve the cat, first by shaking down his next-door weed dealer Hulka (Will Forte). Their investigation leads them to the 17th Street Blips, a bunch of gangbangers so tough they were kicked out of both the Bloods and the Crips. After bluffing their way into the gang's strip club headquarters, they find that Keanu is in the hands of their leader, Cheddar (Method Man), who has renamed the feline "New Jack" and dressed him in a do-rag and gold chain. Our heroes are mistaken for the Allentown Boys and sent by the gang boss on a high-stakes ride-along with the rest of the gang, which includes Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), a flinty, but beautiful, gang captain who catches Rell's eye. Their mission is to deliver a shipment of a new drug called Holy Shit, which is said to be so potent as to have the effect of "smoking crack with God." If they succeed in their mission, Cheddar promises to return Keanu as a sign of respect. Lies stack upon lies, and the two nerdy friends find themselves pulled deeper into the criminal world.
Key and Peele's frantic code switching between nerdy everymen and harder-than-thou gangsters is the best part of Keanu. Key, the taller and more imposing of the two, is especially good when he turns his voice down to a menacing growl to explain to his heavily armed charges why George Michael was an original gangster. The pair's chemistry, carefully cultivated across five seasons of TV, translates well to the big screen. They have a lot of fun with contemporary action movie cliches, such as the duct tape bandage that magically fixes a horrendous wound, and the seemingly normal guy who, in a fit of rage, becomes a killing machine. The real Keanu Reeves even has a cameo as the voice of his namesake kitten during a Holy Shit-induced drug trip.
Realism and character consistency aren't priorities for director Peter Atencio, who concentrates on foregrounding his stars' personas. The result has its moments of good fun, but like many before them who have discovered the difficulty of making the comic transition from small screen to big screen, Key and Peele's first venture into the movies seems ultimately disposable.