Keanu (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Isn’t it cute?

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If you have followed my inconsequential twitter account, you probably know that I have considerable affection toward cats. While I also like dogs to some degrees, I cannot help but look closer at cat whenever I happen to spot it outside, and the same thing can be said about many scene-stealing cats in movies such as that Persian cat belonging to James Bond’s most famous opponent or the difficult cat performer in François Truffaut’s “Day for Night” (1973). Even though I know well that cats are often haughty, sneaky, and ungrateful compared to dogs, my mind instantly responds whenever a cat appears on the screen, and I become delighted especially if it functions as something more than a mere background props.

While my recent favorite ones are that adorable cat in “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (2014) and the little kitten in “Mountain Cry” (2015), “Keanu” gives me another cat as memorable as them, and I must confess that, as my heart succumbed to its irresistible cuteness, I became more generous than usual to the movie. Although the movie is overlong and clunky due to its thin plot and broad characterization, it has several solid comic moments to enjoy at least, and it surely helps that the movie is supported by the undeniable comic chemistry between its two lead actors.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who have mainly been known for their popular TV sketch series “Key and Peele”, play Clarence and Rell, two suburban black guys who have been close to each other as cousins/friends. In their introductory scene, Clarence is hurriedly driving to Rell’s residence because Rell has been seriously depressed by the recent breakup with his girlfriend, but then everything turns out to be all right for Rell when he finds an unexpected visitor in front of his house. It is just a little homeless kitten, but this small fellow instantly brightens up Rell’s melancholic heart, and he feels a lot better even before his cousin finally arrives.

Two weeks later, Clarence and Rell happen to have a chance to enjoy themselves together when Clarence’s wife and daughter are going to spend the weekend somewhere outside their house. Rell becomes more productive than usual thanks to his precious cat which was named Keanu by him right on the day of their encounter, and we get a good laugh from how he uses Keanu for making the parodic recreation of famous movie scenes such as that infamous torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs” (1992).

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But then something bad happens. While Rell and Clarence go out for watching a new action movie, somebody breaks into Rell’s house, and Rell is naturally distraught when he and Clarence find that Keanu is gone. When it looks like there is a slim but possible chance for getting back Keanu from whoever stole the cat, Rell becomes determined to do anything necessary for that, and Clarence reluctantly joins Rell even though he is well aware of the possible danger in their impromptu search for Keanu.

As they come into an area filled with dangerous criminals, they have to disguise themselves as tough hardcore guys, and the movie draws a substantial amount of laugh from when they try to emulate your average stereotype black thugs during their accidental encounter with a local drug lord named Cheddar (Method Man, who incidentally played a character named Calvin “Cheese” Wagstaff in the acclaimed TV series “The Wire”) and his gang members. Their silly bluff somehow works despite their clumsiness, and Cheddar and his gangs come to mistake Clarence and Rell for a pair of notorious assassins operating around their slum neighbourhood.

Using this classic comic situation of mistaken identity, the screenplay written by Peele and his co-writer Alex Rubens keeps throwing more gags into the plot, and some of them work while others don’t. I laughed during the payoff part of the sequence featuring the loony cameo appearance by a certain famous actress, but its meandering middle portion could be shortened for a tighter build-up process. When the third act of the movie becomes loud and violent as expected from the start, we get less laughs as violence and silliness jarringly clash with each other on the screen, and its finale feels contrived as literally coming back to its safe zone.

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Anyway, it is apparent that Key and Peele had a good time together in front of the camera. I came to notice them for the first time when they played a pair of earnest federal agents in the first season of TV series “Fargo”, and I was not so surprised to learn later that they have actually worked together for years. As shown from their funny sketches in “Key and Peele”, they are a wonderful comic duo, and that is why I could easily forgive their occasional moments of excess in their movie.

Above all, they let their tiny co-performer steal the show from them. Keanu was in fact played by seven different tabby cats during the shooting, but their performances are flawlessly seamed together for creating one believable feline character, and I really enjoyed watching Keanu doing other things besides looking cute as required.

If I could be absolutely impartial in my judgment, I would probably give “Keanu” 2.5 stars for its notably weak aspects including the under-utilization of good supporting performers like Nia Long, Luis Guzmán, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, and Tiffany Haddish. However, as I said before, I cannot hardly be objective in front of its lovable cat character, so I add an extra half star to the rating despite my reservation. Maybe I am wrong in doing that, but, folks, you cannot judge me on that if you like cats as much as I do.

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