Key and Peele's feature film is a skit stretched too thin 

click to enlarge Keegan-Michael-Key-and-Jordan-Peele-in-Keanu-Photo-Steve-Die.jpg

Even the most absurd movies operate within an internal logic. Whether they’re Looney Tunes or Shakespeare, the film universe has some physical possibilities and metaphysical causality. Logic can be cartoonish and wacky (something like The Lego Movie), semi-serious and attempting to replicate our world (an action movie like Die Hard) or overly serious for humor, taking the implications of genre movie actions to their real-world conclusions (something like Tropic Thunder).

Keanu, the kitten rescue movie helmed by and starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, hits both extremes and never the middle. That means it’s constantly jarring your inner ear for humor, resulting in the comedic equivalent of motion sickness. Is this hyper-real, mocking other movies for their lack of consequences? Or is it slapstick nonsense in which a kitten is a kitten forever?

Maybe if this was one of Key & Peele’s 10-minute skits from their Comedy Central show, we wouldn’t have time to be caught with such questions, but Keanu runs a full hour and 40 minutes.

It’s not that the jokes aren’t funny — they often are, especially those applying white collar teambuilding exercises to drug dealers — it’s that each turns into a stuffed equine punching bag by the end of the film. The film even looks somewhat interesting with the flat field of depth and saturated colors of a Grand Theft Auto game, but there are only so many jokes you can make about saving an adorable cat from gangbangers. Key and Peele are not from this lifestyle. They have a hard time fitting in. Things get out of hand. And the kitten is very cute in its brief moments.

However, with vapid, troubling gender and identity politics that escape the duo’s parodic bite filling up the majority of non-joke screen time, the film runs out of steam and leaves us with an empty, outdated star vehicle. A drug deal gone wrong cuts back and forth between two overwrought joke scenarios that could barely have functioned as skits in their own right.

The narrative, barely hanging on to these jokes like a loose refrigerator magnet, merely serves the purpose of differentiating this from one of their skits and justifying its status as a feature-length film. Along the way to rescue this kitten, the plot focuses on the two men's sex lives. Peele's character is dumped at the start of the film and trains the adorable kitten to claw at his ex's photos, leading to the uncomfortable climactic refrain "get that bitch."

They also go back in time to the days of bro-magnon flirtation where the usually submissive, quieter character played by Key effectively punches a bully in the face so that his wife will find him attractive, the classic "Back to the Future rape-prevention seduction." It's just one confused aspect of a confused movie, but when you have two comedians that had so much progressiveness in their TV show, why regress now that you have to bow to the big screen? It’s a question for audiences, studios and creators — or at least it will be when you watch this film. It will help you fill the time between the 10th and 11th utterance of the same joke.

A clumsy ending piles on the clichés without the jokes, reverting whatever interesting things the film had to say about masculinity and George Michael (a surprisingly large factor in this film) back to gangster machismo basics.

It’s a funny skit stretched too thin, revealing a troubling story skeleton lurking underneath. A knock-knock joke can be funny. Telling one knock-knock joke over and over during the course of an hour and a half might be too much for most people to stomach.

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Jacob Oller

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