Keanu Revives the “Buddy Movie” Genre

The rise of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (a.k.a. Key and Peele) has been a slow one, starting with their appearances on MADtv, which both were cast on in spite of the show desiring only one black comedian (this was back in 2003, if that offers some sort of excuse for the racial quota). From there, the duo finagled their Comedy Central series, Key & Peele, in 2012 after acting and performing separately (and together in Reno 911!) in the interim–though Key much more prolifically. The re-introduction of the duo together on their Comedy Central show ignited the fire of enthusiasm that leads us to now, with Keanu.

For anyone who has ever appreciated the bromance of films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Some Like It Hot and The Sting, and wondered if it was permanently replaced by the egregiousness of the likes of The Hangover, then this movie just might restore your faith (that’s right, Keanu could very well become a classic amid the aforementioned trifecta). The chemistry between Key and Peele is, of course, only further accented by the presence of an adorable kitten named Keanu (played by a total of seven different cats with names like Nacho and Jefe), a feline that finds his way to recently dumped and downtrodden photographer Rell Williams (Peele) after escaping a gang-related shootout spurred on by the Blips (the merging of Bloods and Crips) and the silent murderous rage of the Allentown brothers (also, incidentally played by Key and Peele).

Rell couldn’t possibly be aware that Keanu’s (real name: Iglesias) tie to a vengeful drug lord, Bacon (Luis Guzmán), seeking to right the wrong that was the Allentown brothers’ massacre of his brother will lead to his beloved new friend and beacon of hope to be ripped apart from him. But before that happens, Rell’s cousin, Clarence Goobril (Key), notices a palpable shift in Rell’s mood as he starts working again (i.e. making a movie-themed calendar with Keanu re-enacting roles in Fargo, The Shining, etc.). And when Clarence’s wife, Hannah (Nia Long), and daughter go out of town with overt tool and quintessential white guy Spencer (Rob Huebel), who is only in their lives because their daughters are friends, Clarence takes the opportunity to kick back a bit by going with Rell to the Arclight to see the latest Liam Neeson movie (a perfect addition to the already non-black guy interests Clarence has, chiefly George Michael).

It is in this time frame that Keanu is, appropriately, taken. Distraught and uncertain that the police will do anything, Rell begins his own investigation by going next door to his weed dealer’s, a white guy named Hulka (Will Forte) with cornrows and a robust hip hop record collection. At first useless, Hulka ends up dropping the important name they need: Cheddar (Method Man, a fine villain indeed). A gangster who works at Hot Party Vixens (beautifully abbreviated to HPV on the exterior sign), Rell fears Cheddar to be extremely intimidating based on the courage of having such a nickname. And, in fact, this theory proves correct after they get through his henchmen–and henchwoman, Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish)–to find that he’s in possession of Keanu, now wearing a doo-rag and gold chain.

To ensure their safety via falsifying street cred, Rell and Clarence change their names to Tectonic and Shark Tank, respectively, then claim to be the infamous Allentown brothers responsible for the latest bloodshed on the streets. Though everyone in the room is skeptical of this, Cheddar decides to take them at their word, offering to give Keanu to Rell (as they bizarrely request) in exchange for accompanying them on a drug run to push Cheddar’s latest product, Holy Shit, a combination that includes a mixture of PCP and MDMA. Hence, it’s like smoking crack with God.

Willing to pay any price, even, apparently, death to get Keanu back, Rell cajoles Clarence into going along with their undercover operation. Along the way, their dynamic reaches a crescendo during a scene in which they endure a shootout while George Michael’s “Father Figure” plays in the background–a running joke of the film. So integral to the plot is George Michael that an entire scene consists of Clarence trying to convince his fellow gang-bangers in the van that George Michael isn’t white and that he once had a partner named Ridgeley who no one “ever saw again” after George Michael was through with him. But before this dramatic instance of pure bro synergy, the two of them learn how to survive without one another by working together, apart. For Rell, showing up to Anna Faris’ house with Hi-C to give her a taste of the Holy Shit results in an unexpected killing as Britney Spears’ version of “Tom’s Diner” blasts, adding to the hilarious absurdity of it all. For Clarence, learning to channel his inner rage by standing up to Cheddar when he tells them he needs Rell and Clarence to do another deal works toward making Clarence more desirable to Hannah.

Lovingly directed by Key & Peele go-to Peter Atencio, the harmony that occurs between this perfectly paired duo lends new hope to the buddy movie genre, recently fallen by the wayside thanks to the likes of The D Train.