As an extended riff on action-movie tropes by a pair of sketch-comedy vets, Keanu’s most obvious point of reference is Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Like that movie, Keanu plays it mostly straight: there’s no outright absurdity or slapstick farce. Instead, it’s an honest-to-goodness action movie, with the subplots replaced by what’re essentially half-baked bits of sketch material. It opens with a Matrix-style shootout and closes with an extended chase. In between, there’s a lot of plot.
Like its creators’ TV show “Key & Peele,” Keanu gets a lot of mileage out of its stars willingness to make themselves the butt of the joke. There’s a good-natured sense of self-deprecation that runs throughout the movie, and the whole thing is never exhausting. That’s a feat in itself: Keanu feels a lot longer than its 98 minutes, and it seems to end on three separate occasions. For the most part, that’s okay: Keanu is a fine diversion. But considering its stars’ potential—and the movie’s high-concept premise—it’s full of missed opportunities. These guys are masters of sketch comedy; but without the ability to inhabit new characters or situations every few minutes, they’re stuck trying to extend jokes that were never meant to last to feature length.
Hot Fuzz succeeded thanks in large part to its love of the genre. There’s a lot of heart in Keanu that points to its makers’ love of bullets-and-brawn tropes, and seeing a kitten scurry through a bullet-ridden shootout will always be adorable. But Keanu is far more generic than the explosive potential its stars suggest. There’s a lot to like here; but unfortunately, not a lot to love either.
Keanu. Directed by Peter Atencio. Written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens. Starring Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Method Man. Opens across Kansas City April 30th.