”Key & Peele” only ran four seasons on Comedy Central, but it already seems destined for classic status among sketch shows. Stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele — each the son of one white and one black parent — served up consistently witty and irreverent riffs on the complex racial dynamics in the multiculti 21st century, code-switching merrily as they skewered stereotypes of every stripe.
They defined “blackish” before ”Black-ish” did.
The former Chicagoans’ feature-film debut picks off where their series left off, and if ”Keanu” sometimes comes off as another sketch stretched a little thin, that doesn’t put it in too shabby of company. It may not be as great as ”The Blues Brothers,” but it’s up there with ”Wayne’s World” and light-years ahead of ”Coneheads.”
The two stars play versions of themselves. Key is Clarence Goobril, a nerdy suburban dad, and Peele is Rell Williams, a slightly hipper, pot-smoking photographer. In the dumps over a breakup, Rell finds a new love when a tabby kitten shows up on his doorstep. But when the preternaturally adorable Keanu is kitty-napped by a local drug kingpin named Cheddar (Method Man), the dorky duo find themselves blacking it up in the ‘hood on a quest to rescue the wee beastie.
What follows is a gleefully profane, cartoonishly violent sendup of movie tropes, both gangsta and otherwise (”The Matrix” is a favorite target). And, of course, the characters’ fish-out-of-water status in gangland is the primary driver of the punch lines.
Pressured to come up with an intimidating street name, Clarence dubs himself ”Shark Tank” and draws on his expertise as a corporate team-builder to help a crew of drug dealers up their game. ”Wordness to the turdness!” he exclaims at one point, somehow never raising suspicions about his murderous bona fides.
”Keanu” reaches the heights of hilarity in an extended scene in which Rell and his newly appointed ”trainee,” Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), make a designer-drug delivery to the home of a onetime Hollywood starlet (a surprise cameo that won’t be spoiled here). As their sales call takes a violently surreal turn worthy of ”Pulp Fiction,” the camera cuts to Clarence’s minivan, where our second fake-it-till-he-makes-it gangster has the rest of the crew grooving to George Michael (”Yeah, he’s light-skinned”). It’s sublimely silly.
The action half of this action-comedy takes over in the third act, which generates fewer laughs as it spins out a series of too many climaxes (call it the ”Face/Off” effect). But the comic momentum never quite grinds to a halt, and even if the occasional attempts at genuine pathos come up short, ”Keanu” is still an entertaining extension of the ”Key & Peele” aesthetic.
Oh, and the kitten is as heart-tuggingly cute as anything you’ll find on YouTube — and he’s kind of a badass, too.
New Line Cinema presents a film directed by Peter Atencio and written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated R (for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.