“Keanu”: Brilliant comedic duo Key and Peele play regular guys who go undercover in drug-gang territory to rescue a tabby kitten. 3 stars out of 4.

Share story

Here, kitty kitty kitty …

OK, why don’t more movies have kittens in them? I can think of a dozen recent ones off the top of my head (most egregiously, this week’s “Mother’s Day”) that would have been vastly improved by an adorable miniature cat. That’s the hook of the uneven but thoroughly enjoyable “Keanu,” in which a couple of regular guys infiltrate a gangland drug operation. You’ve seen that movie before, with guns and violence blending with gallows humor, but there’s a twist. The title character is a tabby kitten so ridiculously cute that everyone who sees him wants to keep him — even dangerous druglords. (And me. If the Humane Society had a kiosk outside the theater door, they’d do a brisk business.)

“Keanu” is the brainchild of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the creative minds behind the Comedy Central series “Key and Peele.” Here, they play cousins Clarence and Rell; respectively, a tightly wound family man and a stoner artist depressed after a breakup. Rell’s spirits are lifted by the arrival on his doorstep of said kitten, who’s quickly christened Keanu (a joke that pays off later, but you’ll have to listen carefully) — and who, just as quickly, disappears.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Keanu,’ with Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Method Man, Tiffany Haddish, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, Will Forte. Directed by Peter Atencio, from a screenplay by Peele and Alex Rubens. 100 minutes. Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity. Several theaters.

The Blips — outtakes from the Bloods and Crips — are suspected, and Clarence and Rell must transform their language, their bearing, their clothing (Clarence tries, without much success, to pull his khakis down low) and even their names to enter gang territory and get Keanu back. “We’re in the market,” Clarence explains, in his best tough-guy-from-the-movies voice, “for a gangster pet.”

The transformation from sketch comedy to full-length feature film (this is Key and Peele’s first) can be a rocky one — see, or rather don’t see, the long list of failed “Saturday Night Live”-inspired movies. And “Keanu,” it’s true, often feels padded; you sense that lurking in this movie is perhaps the funniest 10-minute sketch ever.

But Key and Peele’s fast-talking chemistry, as they shift their language instantly from suburbanite to street (a theme in many of their sketches), make Clarence and Rell’s transformation into bellowing, gun-wielding tough guys and back again feel fresh and often very funny. (In one perfect scene, Clarence has to switch instantly between personas on the phone to his wife, who wants to know why he’s suddenly talking like he’s in a gangster movie.)

And, oh, that kitten. (Or, rather, seven kittens; it took a village.) In the early scenes, Keanu runs slow-motion across the streets of South Central, his too-long legs tangling beneath him; later, he squeakily meows up at the camera with that alert, angelic innocence kittens exude. Give that kitty an Oscar, right now. And then send him to my doorstep.