There was a lot of pressure on Key & Peele to make a successful transition from TV to film (or give a satisfying conclusion to their TV show, if you want to look at it that way), but I think they did it.
Sure, “Keanu” isn’t particularly flashy, but it does everything that is expected of it with supreme confidence. Even though nothing about the film could really be described as revolutionary, and the movie likely isn’t going to have the cultural significance of Key & Peele’s TV show, there is a certain amount of confidence and control in the film that makes it a pleasant and fun watch.
In 2005, Blake Snyder released a screenwriting book titled “Save the Cat: The Last Screenwriting Book You’ll Ever Need”. The book outlined a series of story beats used to craft a ‘successful’ film. The book was a bit of a phenomenon, spawning two sequels. While “Keanu” doesn’t outright reference “Save the Cat”, it does follow the formula outlined in the book and feature a plot about saving a cat…
However, while this screenwriting in-joke makes for a cute gimmick, there is something deeper going on within “Keanu”. The plotline for the film involves Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) and Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key) spending their weekend trying to rescue a cat named Keanu (Rell to regain his composure after a bad breakup and Clarence to take some ‘me’ time at his wife’s insistence). Their quest to save Keanu forces them to imitate gangsters, sell drugs to celebrities and even shoot guns. This stark transition from Rell and Clarence’s normal, suburban life makes an interesting point about code switching and respectability politics in America.
“Keanu” doesn’t end up advocating for anything strongly in the end, but touches the surface of some fascinating ideas. This ends up actually being somewhat emblematic of the film’s style on the whole. While there are some fun choices made with camera movement and editing at times, the movie’s approach throughout is generally somewhat safe. However, if the film does say anything in the end, it acknowledges that some of the biggest joys can come in the smallest packages (I’m talking about the cat here, okay?).
Yet, while “Keanu” is very fun, it perhaps lacks in the memorability department. Part of the problem is simply because of the movie’s structure. Even though the formula is justified, the steps involved are nonetheless predictable. Similarly, the scope of the film’s plot is simply too small for it to leave a significant impact. That said, I’m glad the movie constructed a solid rendition of a generic plot rather than trying something crazy and completely missing the mark.
On that note, the film’s humor may have been a little too laidback. Not that it wasn’t funny, but I’m not sure how much of it leaves a lasting impression after the theatre lights turn on. There are some nice key comedic sequences that can be conjured up in the mind, but the abstract thought of the scene might be funnier than any of the individual jokes. What I’m saying is that while there is a constant stream of laughs, in the long run, the humor might be just a little bit too rushed.
The funniest moments easily come from the reactions Key & Peele give to their surroundings. Key & Peele are really the heart of this movie, and their unbreakable chemistry is what sells it. When returning to the question of whether or not “Keanu” is a good transition from TV to film for Key & Peele, I’d argue that yes, it is. While the film may not be their most iconic work, there can be some refinements in the future if the pair decides to keep making movies. The most important part is that the strength of their combined charisma works as well on the big screen as it did on the small screen.