KEANU (2016, Peter Atencio)
A complete dressing down of the insecure masculinity at the heart of gangster culture, KEANU is every bit as clever and insightful as the best sketches over the course of Key & Peele’s fine history. The biggest problem is, of course, those sketches were clever at 4 minutes, while this feature lasts 100.
Despite wearing out its welcome in the final stretch, the movie has enough sharp observations to make it memorable. The premise involves an intense struggle over a tiny, cute kitten (the least macho pet there is); murderous thugs respect (unbeknownst to them) a white, gay singer like George Michael once they assume he killed someone; and the most capable member of the Blips (“you know, Blood-Crips. Blips”) is female (and pulling one over on everybody). The extent to which middle-class blacks will pander to thug culture to validate their race is at the heart of the satire here, and the two leads are terrific actors in that regard — Key’s hyper, over-wired intensity is both hilarious and properly established (in that he claims to be pumped up after seeing a Liam Neeson[s] movie), and Peele’s understated menace is wildly unbelievable and endearing.
Nods to everything from BEVERLY HILLS COP to BREAKING BAD abound in Atencio’s staging and editing, and you could tell from their sketch show that he loves stylistic action. But funny sketches don’t make for wholly successful complete features, and the attempts to mine actual character development here don’t really work. This isn’t exactly MIDNIGHT RUN, and Atencio is no Martin Brest. But it will be easy to watch on cable every time it comes on, even if “Father Figure” gets stuck in your head.