The Cat in the Black.
Two average, suburban black guys are mistaken for a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggas when they go deep into thugland searching for their stolen cat, named KEANU.
At last – master sketch comedy duo Key & Peele (Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele) have made the leap to feature film, like a lion pouncing on a zebra. Or at least like a kitten pouncing on a rubber poo.
Rell (Peele) has just broken up traumatically with his girlfriend, and his bestie, Clarence (Key), is driving over to console him and take him to a movie. In the interim, a little kitten owned by a gangster finds its way to Rell’s doorstep. (We see the kitten’s origins in the opening prelude, as the meth lab it lives in is decimated by two fierce thugs, the wordless Allentown Brothers (also played by Key and Peele), pulling some real running-up-walls MATRIX shit in the shootout.)
By the time Clarence arrives at Rell’s door, thinking he is going to find a wreck, Rell is a new man already, smitten by the kitten, which he has named Keanu for no good reason.
Two weeks later, Rell and Clarence head out to a Liam Neeson movie (their parking attendant alter-egos would be overjoyed – because The Neesons is their shiiiit—), leaving Rell’s beloved Keanu at home. Upon their return, they find Rell’s house ransacked, and Keanu – taken! (Where’s The Neesons when you really need him?!)
So begins the quest for pussy, into the meanest underbelly of Los Angeles – a club called Hot Party Vixens (HPV), where they discover who tooken Keanu – the gang leader called Cheddar (Method Man). And he’s already tied a little hanky on Keanu’s head, to shield him from the jailyard sun.
To infiltrate Cheddar’s gang, and to avoid sounding “like Richard Pryor speaking like a white dude,” Rell and Clarence front as street niggas – “Tek-Tonic” and “Shark Tank” (and still sound like Richard Pryor speaking like a white dude – who thinks he’s speaking like a black dude) – and the ruse works so well, Cheddar thinks they are the lethal Allentown Brothers incognito. So Rell (in crazy-eyed Tek-Tonic mode) requests to buy Keanu (Shark Tank clarifying that they’re “in the market for a gangsta pet”), and Cheddar makes a deal with them: In return for teaching his crew how to be hard – drug deals, GTA, murder – he’ll gift the kitten to them. Little do they know, the real Allentown Brothers are on their trail, to reclaim Keanu for themselves…
Cheddar’s crew is Tiffany Haddish, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors and Jason Mitchell (he was Eazy-E in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON). When Haddish takes Rell/Tek-Tonic into a Hollywood mansion to do a drug deal (Ana Faris cameos as herself, the buyer), Clarence/Shark Tank stays in the car with the gang, “Gonna teach these niggers how to keep watch,” and introduces them to the dulcet tones of that renowned black artist George Michael.
Will Forte is Rell’s drug dealer who lives next door; Luis Guzman, Rob Huebel and Nia Long in roles smaller than the kitten…
The gag of Key and Peele being black and acting culturally white, then further trying to act blacker is a reflection of their own realities. Both are mixed (like Barack Obama), and probably even identify more strongly with white culture, but simply due to the pigmentation of their skin, they are considered “black,” with all the cultural baggage that goes with that misperception. So even in their show, they exaggerate just that little bit extra when they go full black. For instance, putting that extra street spin on the word “nigger” (or “nigga,” so we can pretend racism doesn’t exist). In the K&P sketch about the a cappella group, they threaten each other over who owns the whiteboys, appending each threat with a more and more stylized “nigger,” until it becomes “nooga.”
Comedian Aries Spears believes Key and Peele don’t have the qualifications to co-exist equally in the white community and the nigga community, citing them as faux-black when they try to act street. I beg to differ: with their fame and aptitude for leadership, I’m sure those two could quite easily assimilate into either community.
Spears maintains that he, on the other hand, could easily switch between communities because, so he says, “You got to have dat gene.” Which gene? Oh, you mean that “nigger gene” that Dennis Hopper talks about in TRUE ROMANCE? Wait, are YOU making ME racist?
Written by Peele and Alex Rubens, and directed by Peter Atencio (who helmed their KEY & PEELE catalogue), KEANU is a worthy debut vehicle to gun these two great comedians into the world of feature film. Because they come from TV comedy (most notably from their dambuster KEY & PEELE, but also as regulars on MAD TV), their acting chops are underrated, here on such smooth display, we take those talents for granted; the transition to the big screen is a natural progression from their cinematic sketches with the high production values of KEY & PEELE. Some canny viewers have commented on the absurd similarities KEANU bears to JOHN WICK (2014), starring that other Keanu (Reeves), where the plot was ignited by the killing of Wick’s dog, which sends him into a rampage through gangland.
Indeed, in the final scenes, both Rell and Clarence have become so ensconced in their thug roles that they are shooting and running in slow motion like the actual Allentown Brothers, rampaging through gangland much like The One in a blue-pill Matrix.
It’s a funny original hook – going after a cute little kitten, instead of a woman – but show me a pussy worth dying for and I’ll show you a whooped nooga.