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Review: 'Keanu' needs funnier tension — or perhaps more kitty cat

A pair of nerd cousins, Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), go on a quest to save their cat from drug dealers in Keanu.
A pair of nerd cousins, Rell (Jordan Peele) and Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), go on a quest to save their cat from drug dealers in Keanu.
Published Apr. 28, 2016

The usual knock on TV sketch comedians moving into movies is that hilarious five-minute ideas get stretched to lousy feature length. Superstar, MacGruber or A Night at the Roxbury, anyone?

Not Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, or simply Key and Peele, as Comedy Central watchers know them. Their method of deflating Keanu is just the opposite; a great feature-length idea stunted by overlooking its full potential and settling for easy comedic beats. Punchlines don't get funnier when they're repeated to pad a running time.

The title character is an aww-dorable tabby, introduced while leaping and sliding for its life in slo-mo through a bloody gunpowder ballet. If the action seems familiar, it's supposed to; Keanu is above all a Hollywood spoof, in this case kidding those Joel Silver-era buddy action flicks like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.

The cat, when it's stolen by drug dealers, makes it personal for a pair of nerd cousins, bummed-out, bonged-out Rell (Peele) and Clarence (Key), whose practical whiteness is measured by his worship of George Michael's music, a riff the script plays too many times. Rell and Clarence adopt gang personas named Tectonic and Shark Tank, infiltrating the Blips (washouts from the Bloods and Crips) to bring Keanu back safely.

Keanu rolls out the genre's hoariest tropes, from twitchy snitch to topless club clues and applies one or two initially amusing riffs on the subject before it's dropped for another. If the subject returns, it likely won't be broached in any different fashion.

Just like action movies become numbing as bullet casings and bodies pile up, Keanu's third act becomes tiresome with its lack of anything fresher coming after midway through. Originality and my attention checked out when Anna Faris showed up as a designer drug-addicted version of herself, the first in a series of flat set pieces.

Keanu is raucous enough to satisfy the Hangover crowd, yet when compared to Key and Peele's trenchant tomfoolery on television, it needs focused anger, funnier tension. Or perhaps simply more kitty cat.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.