Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have given a new name to the buddy action comedy genre: “Keanu.”
Key and Peele, who starred in the Comedy Central sketch series as Key & Peele, star as Clarence and Rell, two cousins who live in the city but who are far from streetwise in the R-rated movie.
When Rell’s beloved kitten, Keanu, is “catnapped,” the straight-laced pair pose as ruthless killers to infiltrate a street gang and retrieve their baby. But the incredibly adorable kitten becomes so coveted that the fight over his custody creates a gang war, forcing the duo to take the law into their own hands. The villain, Cheddar, is played by actor-rapper Method Man.
“The movie is about wish fulfillment,” Peele says during a recent teleconference call to advance the movie, who was released on Friday, April 29. “It’s about the high stakes world that the characters dream about when they watch Liam Neeson films. It’s like Key and I in real live—we want to be bad asses.”
“Key & Peele,” which aired through the fall of 2015, catapulted the duo onto the big screen.
“We thought about having a Key and Peele movie at the ready if anyone came asking,” says Key. “Our passion is action films, particularly those of the 1980s and 1990s that have action with lots of laughs, or comedies with a lot of violence and action. These pictures have a great tone that we wanted to celebrate in this movie.”
Joining the intrepid duo on the feline hunt is Bud, played by actor Jason Mitchell, well-known in his early career for playing Eazy-E in the critically acclaimed film “Straight Outta Compton.” Now taking he is honing his comedic chops.
“I want people to know I am a contender and can play comedy and drama roles, Mitchell says. “I can unpeel my onion and people should not typecast me.”
Mitchell, who grew up in Louisiana where the movie was filmed, was excited to return.
“I was living in Los Angeles and it was so crazy to come home to New Orleans,” he says. “‘Straight Outta Compton’ changed everything for me, it made the city proud (and) I was super happy.”
The films name hearkens back to another famous “Keanu”—probably the only other one—Keanu Reeves. The “Matrix” actor wasn’t initially interested in participating, but eventually found himself as the voice of the cat who leads Rell through a drug-induced hallucination.
“There was a certain strategy in choosing ‘Keanu’ as the name of the cat, when you see that name you think of an iconic name like Keanu Reeves,” Peele says. “People will think of two things when they hear the name and it’s a way for people to connect to Key and Peele.”
The film, directed by Key and Peele helmsman, Peter Atencio, is a continuation of the pair’s work on television.
“We look to material that we have not seen anywhere else,” says Key. “Topics such as race, culture and masculinity are targets.”
As for future projects, Key and Peele will continue to pay attention to content where they can provide social commentary.
“We write how we see the world,” Peele says. “Once ‘Keanu’ comes out, we will have a powwow to discuss what’s next. There are opportunities in class and wage discrimination, sci-fi realm with artificial intelligence; there are so many things we have not discussed.”
Most importantly, they’re hoping that fans enjoy “Keanu.”
“We want people to go and have a great time at the movie and get a bunch of good laughs,” Key says. “We are comedians first and foremost.”