"Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in Keanu

KEANU

One of the most revered sketches from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele – the sublime Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele series that ended its five-year run in September – is titled “Phone Call.” In it, Key stands at a street corner talking with his wife on his phone, sweetly promising to take her to the theatre. Out of a nearby building walks Peele in a black jacket and baggy jeans, dialing his own cell as he approaches the crosswalk. The men make fleeting, wary eye contact, and after they do, Key’s yuppie, assuming the role of street tough, resumes his conversation substituting “dem” for “them” and “dat” for “that,” and telling his wife, “I’mo’ pick yo’ ass up at 6:30, den!” Peele, who began his own phone convo with “’Sup, dawg?”, gives Key a nod of recognition and crosses the street. But the instant Key is out of earshot, Peele’s own tough-guy façade crumbles with his phone friend. “Oh my God, Christian,” he says with swishy panic, “I almost totally just got mugged right now!”

In many ways, Keanu, the first movie to boast Key and Peele as headliners, is like a feature-length, action-comedy take on that classic sketch – a tale of two mild-mannered suburbanites forced to adopt “street” poses and lingo to placate the sensibilities, or survive the wrath, of other blacks. The bitingly funny, incisive joke of “Phone Call,” however, took 47 seconds to tell, punchline and all. Keanu, by contrast, lasts just over an hour and a half, and both the joke and its capper are pretty much old news after the first 15 minutes. Without question, there are plenty of hilarious moments throughout, and the sharp-witted leads exude spectacular confidence and charisma. (I’m sure I’ll regret saying this someday, but at present, it’s unimaginable that any Key and Peele showcase wouldn’t be at least slightly worth viewing.) Yet you can have a pretty good time at director Peter Atencio’s big-screen debut and still wish – despite its stars, its concept, and the cutest damned kitten you’ve ever seen – that you were having a much better one.

Keanu’s title character is the aforementioned kitty, who loses his first, druglord owner in a violent skirmish at the film’s start, races through the streets of Los Angeles, and winds up scratching at the door of Peele’s recently dumped sad sack Rell. The man falls immediately in love with the furry, lightly mewling feline (who wouldn’t?), and within a couple weeks Rell has built little Keanu a sprawling scratching-post complex and is posing him in movie-themed glamor shots – much to the concern of Key’s Clarence, Rell’s friendly, comically high-strung cousin. But after an evening out, the guys return to Rell’s home to find the place ransacked and Keanu missing, with Rell’s weed-dealing neighbor Hulka (Will Forte in dreds) suggesting that the cat was likely taken, for wildly convoluted reasons, by the L.A. street gang the 17th Street Blips. (“These guys couldn’t get into the Bloods or the Crips, so-o-o ... .”) Heartbroken and pissed, and with Clarence in tow, Rell sets out to retrieve his pet, but also knows that two smartly dressed nerds such as themselves won’t last five minutes on the Blips’ terrain. To get Keanu back, they gotta get gangsta.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in KeanuAnd gangsta they get, though it would have been nice if Rell’s and Clarence’s aliases “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank” were also given more consistently amusing, less long-winded comic gambits. Keanu’s script is by Key and fellow Key & Peele scribe Alex Rubens, and within its one-and-a-half-joke parameters, it’s moderately funny. The leads’ early, misbegotten attempts at street talk are profanely silly, and there’s a priceless bit set in Clarence’s minivan in which he tries to convince three Blip thugs that pop singer George Michael is not only black, but a grade-A bad-ass. (“And then one day – Wham! Nobody. Ever. Seen. Ridgely. Again.”) Yet even this glorious routine is extended for several more minutes than necessary, partly because Rell’s dovetailing excursion – a drug deal at the home of Anna Faris (playing a frighteningly freaky version of herself) – is also running far longer than necessary. Time and again, initially enjoyable set pieces such as Clarence’s accidental drug trip and the guys’ first encounter with Luis Guzmán’s kingpin outlast our interest in them, and the requisite car chases and shoot-outs are merely generically loud and busy without accompanying satire. In truth, the whole movie feels like a potentially great Key & Peele sketch unfortunately padded out to feature-film length, and it too often errs on the sides of predictability and banality. I really hoped that if anyone could have delivered a modern film comedy that didn’t end with the anticipated “Six months later ...” postscript, it would have been Key and Peele, but alas ... .

Somewhat unexpectedly, the film’s visual gags boast a higher success rate than its verbal ones. The repeated image of gang-bangers tooling around in a minivan – traveling the speed limit, no less – is always good for a laugh, and when our heroes (Rell in his lime-sherbet sweat jacket, Clarence in his colorful plaid) have their first sit-down with Method Man’s drug lord Cheddar, they slump in their chairs so deeply they’re practically horizontal. And every single shot of that cuddly kitten is a winner. Whether sporting a do-rag or curled up napping on Method Man’s chest or having his picture taken in a diorama of Kubrick’s The Shining bathroom, Keanu is an effortless scene-stealer; it makes perfect sense that, as with Raising Arizona’s toddler Nathan Jr., everyone goes to such obscene lengths to keep the little critter in their possession. In the end, Keanu, and Keanu, are worth the time spent with them. Let’s hope that for Key’s and Peele’s next venture, their co-starring vehicle proves rather less de-clawed.

 

Ratchet & ClankRATCHET & CLANK

It seems pretty commonly agreed that an animated movie nowadays will likely suck unless it’s Pixar, or Disney, or Dreamworks, or Aardman, or Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, or stop-motion, or in a foreign language. Amazingly, however, Ratchet & Clank isn’t bad even though it isn’t any of those things, and is based on a long-running series of video games initiated in 2002. I’ll admit to a sinking feeling in my gut when the movie was preceded by a title card for the production company PlayStation Originals. (Oh no, I thought, is that a thing now?) But directors Kevin Munroe’s and Jericca Cleland’s sci-fi comedy turned out to be not at all deserving of the dread.

There isn’t much to the movie: In essence, it’s just an origin story for titular adventurers Ratchet (a feline-like “lombax” voiced by James Arnold Taylor) and Clank (a green-eyed “defective” robot with the voice of David Kaye) as they become protectors of the galaxy and earn the ire of several über-villains (among them, amusingly, those voiced by Paul Giamatti, Armin Shimerman, and Sylvester Stallone). You can see the visual influences of other, better animated works – principally The Incredibles, The Lego Movie, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – all over the place, and neither the narrative nor the numerous space battles have much zing; for a movie this manic, I yawned a lot. Yet I also giggled quite a bit. Clearly happy to mock the genre tenets it’s simultaneously reveling in, like a Deadpool for pre-teens, the movie delivers clever, snarky swipes at establishing subtitles and incomprehensible alien languages, plus cheerful attacks on hashtags, GPS, and tie-in merchandising. (A meta-commercial near the end promotes a weapon called the RYNO blaster – an acronym for Rip You a New One.) John Goodman adds vocal fun as some kind of purple hippo/elephant creature with one tusk shorn so it resembles a cigar that never leaves his mouth. And I adored the running gag that found Giamatti’s Chairman Drek jettisoning his underlings into space every time they committed the cardinal sin of texting whenever his back was turned. (As cineplex PSAs go, that one’s a beaut.) While it’s mostly unoriginal and thoroughly throwaway, Ratchet & Clank is also filled with terrific jokes, and although Munroe/Cleland may not yet approach the greatness of Lord/Miller, they could well be on their way. Consequently, I couldn’t help but feel sad when, 15 minutes into our Friday screening, a little girl and her grown-up companion left and didn’t return (“You don’t like this show?” “Uh uh.”), and 10 minutes later, another little girl and her grown-up companion exited without coming back. (Out of the blue, this child made a point to say goodbye to me on her way out, breaking my heart all the more.) I presume it wasn’t the film’s quality that caused their exodus, but rather that this wasn’t the uplifting tale of an adorable striped kitty the girls were expecting. They might’ve been better off at Keanu.

 

Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston in Mother's DayMOTHER’S DAY

There’s no gentle way to ease into this, so if you’ve seen the previews or poster for Mother’s Day, let’s just cut to the elephant in the room: What the eff is with that hideous orange wig that’s been plastered onto Julia Roberts’ head?! It looks like some unholy Muppet/Tribble hybrid with a bowl cut attempting to suck her brains out – an artificial coiffure so ghastly that it eradicates even Roberts’ blinding wide grin. Why on Earth did director Garry Marshall do this to her? And why did Roberts let him? Sure, she may feel like she owes her superstardom to the guy for casting her in Pretty Woman. But wasn’t that debt sufficiently paid in 2010’s Valentine’s Day? Or is this punishment and/or penance for Roberts not joining 2012’s cavalcade of humiliated stars in Marshall’s similarly wretched New Year’s Eve?

Hopefully (pleasepleaseplease) the completion of an unofficial trilogy, Mother’s Day sticks Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Chalke, Margo Martindale, Britt Robertson, the inevitable Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller, and other suckers into one of Marshall’s loathsome “holiday comedies” – a series that feels like its director’s pernicious attempt to get one awful movie per day running ad infinitum on TNT. I have too much respect for these performers to detail the minutiae of their characters’ sitcom-sappy travails. I have no such respect for Marshall and his quartet of screenwriters, who evidently consider the inclusion of a drawf named “Shorty” and a morbidly obese man named “Tiny” the heights of hilarity, and who make Hudson’s parents “lovable” bigots who refer to her Indian husband Aasif Mandvi as “towel head.” (Hudson and Mandvi also have a mixed-race child named Tanner, and you’d better believe the potentially ugly racial joke of that name won’t go unnoticed by Kate’s folks.) Mother’s Day isn’t the sort of ordinary terrible movie you simply sigh at and suffer through à la Criminal or Batman v Superman. It’s the sort that you stare at wide-eyed and slack-jawed, unable to comprehend how an atrocity of this magnitude ever gets made, let alone released. (On more than 3,000 screens!) Why did no one balk at the offensively unfunny comedy-club scenes, with Robertson’s boyfriend (Jack Whitehall) winning five grand for using their infant as a prop? Or Aniston’s impromptu children’s party that must’ve cost six figures easy? Or Sudeikis leading a roomful of kids, sans irony or clue, in a sing-along to Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance”? (Sudeikis’ pre-teen audience clearly knows the lyrics; does he?) Or the climax that somehow blends a wedding and a birth and a meet-cute with a woman’s arm stuck in a vending machine? As in Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, the only nominal fun to be had in Mother’s Day comes from watching previous film or TV co-stars either reunite or fail to, and while some might enjoy seeing Aniston and Sudeikis together again ("Aw-w-w, it’s like seeing how We’re the Millers met!"), I much preferred the near-miss of former Justified co-stars Olyphant and Martindale. It was a kick thinking if they had crossed paths, they may have decided to open fire on everything and everyone around them.

 

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