Keanu movie full length review - It's fresh, silly, and smart as hell
When it comes to being a 'gangsta' (or um 'gangster' is the way to say it but I usually see it spelled the former way), people tend to come in that lingo of "H.A.
M" (Hard as a Moter-effer). If you want to be part of a crew doing things like slinging drugs or hanging in the back of a strip club, you got to have a walk, you got to have the right talk, you got to know that guns will be part of it and probably doing drugs from time to time as well (and if you got to plug a few people along the way, well, all the better for street cred). But this is also something we see a lot in movies and television (even, of course, The Wire had its gangster elements in a strip club/drug slinging world), and it's very much in both a real world context and the movies in tandem that Key and Peele come in with their characters in the extremely, surprisingly funny Keanu.
The trailer promises some fish-out-of-water fun, where the comedy duo (coming to movies for the first time following a successful Comedy Central series also skewering race and pop culture in expert ways), playing basically middle-class dorks, have to descend into the criminal underworld of the 17th Street Blips (you can find them on 17th Street, naturally) in order to retrieve Peele's character's cat dubbed the title character (posters for other Warner brothers HAM classics like Heat and New Jack City, the latter being ironic for a couple of reasons, don his walls). There were a couple of things I knew I could expect - George Michael jokes to be sure, though not quite to the extent where Key gets the others in the gangster crew, well, into that s*** - but I didn't expect that they could keep up the humor throughout. They can, and they do.
I think what helps is that you believe this action-thriller movie world. It has an authenticity not unlike Hot Fuzz; this is made by people who, I suspect, really love these scuzzy, ultra-violent action flicks (and the whole angle of the cat comes from John Wick, albeit it's not quite *that* violent, few things are). There's an affection that seeps through, and it's also telling a story that makes it so that Key and Peele aren't just one ting throughout. They can both be comic relief or they can be the straight guy; something in a scene or happening just before it will trigger one of them to get even 'more' into character. That last part is a lot of what drives the humor, and it helps that a) they commit to these 'characters' within their characters, and b) there are other "roles" being played by others. With the exception of Method Man's Cheddar, almost none of the major or supporting characters is quite who they seem to be.
This is also a joy when you watch Tarantino flicks, though here the tone's more like a Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: the tone is constantly irreverent, and often the laughs - massive ones, from the guts many times over - come from these guys being funny together, having perfect timing, and that they keep on coming up against greater and more dangerous obstacles (i.e. those two silent creepy killers that set the chain of events in the film at the start). But the strain of satire on class and culture is the other thing keeping the comedy and even the action fresh and alive.
The attention to how ridiculous these movies can get is one thing (again, Hot Fuzz), and some of the casting helps a great deal with that (two words: Anna Faris, good God she nearly steals the show, but just nearly). But I can't help but keep thinking about how it's so fresh to see what it means to be "black" (in quotes, certainly) in culture and in the movies and then reflected back in life again. Showing just a smidgen of being a dork is a no-no, but what's refreshing is how the others in the van start bopping their heads to George Michael and one of them gets a tattoo with his name (!) It commits to everything it's going for.
In other words, in Keanu being a H.A.M. drug-slinging killer may be one thing, and acting like it is another, and to be both is worth a lot of comedy (especially when it comes to these guys when they, you know, get to having to deal with things like guns that they're clearly over their head with). How does one get into that mind-set? Watch a lot of movies and try to make sure one curbs the Richard-Pryor-imitating a-white-guy-voice. And if there's a cuter thing than Keanu in movies this year then I'll have to resign as a film critic and get one myself!