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Review: “Keanu” (R)

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Steve Dietl/Warner Bros. (LOS ANGELES) — Keanu is one of those films where you watch the trailer and get really excited.  A kitten! A Key & Peele movie! A kitten starring in an R-rated Key & Peele movie! But then that nagging concern creeps in: “Did I just see all the jokes? Will there be anything left when I get to the theater? Will the kitten be in enough scenes?”

Thankfully, there’s no need to fear. There’s plenty of catnip to chew on from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Maybe it’s not the best stoner comedy of all time, but there’s more than enough here to make this an enjoyable 98 minutes.

The premise feels very much like one of those conversations you might have in college, sitting around with a friend or two, partaking in some herbal enhancement: “What if there was this guy, and he had a kitten, and the kitten was stolen by gangstas, and he became a gangsta kitten?”

“Totally.”

“And his name was Keanu.”

“Totally!”

Only here, the story is in the hands of a couple of celebrated writers and comedians, not your loser buddies. Peele stars as Rell, a stoner hurting from a break-up when a lost kitten, which he names Keanu, brings some sunshine into his life. Key plays Clarence, Rell’s cousin, a straight-laced family man who’s wound just a tad too tight. Eventually, our titular kitten ends up in the hands of some hardcore gangbangers, and Rell and Clarence go to absurdly extreme lengths to get him back.

A lot of the humor here comes from placing these guys, and the cat, in outrageous circumstances. But the film’s funniest, sharpest and best moments come when Key and Peele are doing what they did best on their Comedy Central show — namely, playing with stereotypes about what it means to be black and what it means to be a man in today’s world. From all their years working as partners, their chemistry is so good you’ll forget that this is their first movie together. Hopefully it’ll inspire those who didn’t pay much attention to Key & Peele the show to go back see what they missed.

At times, though, Keanu does start to feel like a sketch from the TV show that’s been stretched a bit too long, but the movie rarely lingers on those moments. And when it does, you’re hit with a dose of the kitten, who is painfully cute. Seriously — why are there not more kittens in movies? I’m asking for a friend.

Mostly, Keanu is a kitten-filled gangsta stoner fever dream set to a George Michael soundtrack, and when it works, it’s gut-bustingly funny. Add some great cameos and you have a fun, funny, R-rated comedy that’s a great warm-up to next week’s official start of the summer movie season.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

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