Here kitty, kitty, kitty…
Expectation is a tricky mistress. Take the comedic duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, for instance. Their recently finished show was a gold mine for edgy jokes that brilliantly satirized race perceptions while still finding time to slip in some great pop culture jokes. So for their first major film together, you’d expect pretty much that…except it kinda isn’t.
See Key and Peele here play nerdy cousins, Clarence and Rell. Rell was in a terrible depression before the cutest kitten in the entire world showed up at his door and Rell named him, Keanu. When Rell fins his apartment ransacked and the kitten gone, Clarence and Rell find out that Keanu has been taken the 17th Street Blips led by Method Man himself, Cheddar. Clarence and Rell decide to act tough (read: say the n-word a whole lot) to try to buy Keanu back from Cheddar, but the head of Mew-Tang Clan (credit goes to my friend Carmel for that one) offers to trade the cat for the duo performing a drug deal after Cheddar mistakens the two for the ruthless Allentown Boys.
So the set-up is pretty straight forward and works pretty well. Especially when you factor in just how goddamn cute that cat is. I mean seriously, look at this fucking thing. It’s like he was genetically engineered to be the cutest cat in the freaking world. He’s so adorable that the film justifies the lengths Clarence and Rell are willing to go to save the cat from the clutches of this gang leader. Especially when the duo have to keep up appearances as notorious killers in the presence of a gang.
The film really shines when Key and Peele manage to fool the gang members of their street cred with some quick thinking on their parts even as one member suspects they may not be who they say they are. It all leads to a few good chuckles throughout the film that I can’t say never bored me. And everyone is committed to their roles, so nothing feels sloppy on that end.
What doesn’t work so well is the main subject matter, the race jokes. Keep in mind, these jokes are not lazy at all. This isn’t a Ride Along 2 or Fifty Shades of Black where the cast went for the low-hanging fruit for racial comedy. But the problem is, when Key and Peele trying to act as tough as they can, it all goes back to dropping the n-word with every alternate breath. When I saw the trailer, I figure this would be Key and Peele making an interesting discussion on how Black people are portrayed as tough as opposed to trying to live a regular suburban life. But the joke doesn’t really go anywhere really, it just kinda hangs there and does…nothing. It’s there for its own sake.
What works better are the jokes that center on the duo passing off their mundane existence as “hardcore.” Key in particular gets a few good laughs all centered on George Michael’s music, even if the gags drag on a little bit too long. Peele gets plenty of a mileage with his scenes with Keanu the cat, even if the Keanu disappears for a good chunk of his own movie oddly enough. But what really helped the dynamic duo out was their supporting cast.
Method Man was extremely natural in his role as a gang leader, bringing both menace and seriousness to the proceedings which I was pleasantly surprised by. A girl named Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) serves as Cheddar’s right hand woman, and she carries the role exceptionally well. And hell, both Key and Peele were great actors in this thing giving believable performances as they stumbled their way in this fish-out-of-water story getting a few laughs along the way with a few well-timed slapstick and pop culture jokes. So if I have so much good to say, then why am I not digging this film more?
Well, I think it goes to the fact there just isn’t much consistency really. The middle drags on WAY too long with a cameo appearance that’s not really shocking or surprising in the least. The whole scene lasts a solid 10 minutes and while it got a few chuckles here and there, I wasn’t getting any solid belly laughs either. When Key and Peele are interacting with the gang a little more, the jokes are landing a bit more steadily but those scenes felt way too brief.
I was at least hoping the action scenes could be fun, but even those are clumsily handled. In several moments, I noticed blood effects would pop up before the actor had a chance to physically flinch from their gunshot injury. Perhaps some parodying of classic action shootouts would have worked in these sequences, but the problem is you need a more deft director at the helm, and this guy really felt like a work-for-hire kind of deal. And the action really only kicks in for the last ten minutes of the movie so there’s not much eye candy to behold anyways.
Still, during the final shootout, it’s where I really felt Key and Peele had a grasp of some fun humor while landing pretty good jokes that kept me entertained until the very end. I just wished it had been more consistent or at the very least the acting tough jokes grew a little more beyond dropping the n-word every other sentence. Like there was a point to all of it, and I really didn’t get a strong sense of purpose.
Still, the characters were pretty well rounded that I was able to enjoy the film on that alone with a sensible story to boot. It’s solid, but it’s no classic and it really doesn’t hold a candle to Key and Peele’s excellent show. So I’m going to give this a low…