Key and Peele' leap into action in 'Keanu'

The comedic duo's theatrical debut is a kitten-starring action flick

"Maybe there is a place for me where I can be an action star," Jordan Peele says. It's the fifth and final season of his and Keegan-Michael Key's "Key and Peele," which aired last year. Between sketches, they drive on an open road to — well, they never say. But they aren't dressed as Mexican gangsters or NFL stars, as they have before. They aren't posing as a Jersey Shore couple or the cast of Les Miserables. This is Key and Peele as their true dorky selves.

Key tries being encouraging. Of course his friend can be an action star. Then Peele makes him touch his love handles: "What can I be, an action star fry chef?"

Of course Peele is being sarcastic. Yet the magic of "Key and Peele" was its two biracial stars, subverting expectations of blackness and whiteness. One recurring sketch had Peele imitating President Barack Obama. He answers to critiques from both Republicans and Democrats with help from anger translator Luther. This was so popular, Obama appropriated Luther for the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

"Key and Peele" drew 2.1 million viewers at its launch. Meanwhile, individual sketches have hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Next, these comedians imagine themselves as action stars in their debut feature film, Keanu. Directed by "Key and Peele's" Peter Atencio, the movie pays loose homage to 2014's John Wick, where an assassin comes out of retirement to hunt down Russians who killed his beagle puppy as they stole his prized 1969 Mustang. But in John Wick, leading man Keanu Reeves reestablished himself as a veritable action star at age 51. Keanu pokes fun at how Key and Peele weren't ever cut out to kill. The latter plays Rell, whose sole motivation to move on from a breakup is a young tabby he finds on his doorstep.

Rell names the kitten Keanu.

"We did several sketches on our show that felt like if Keegan and I just got dropped into this genre," Peele says. "We wouldn't be able to fend for ourselves. We would have to scratch by with just our improvisational skills. And that's what this movie is. We're dropped into the world of New Jack City."

"'The Wire,'" Key adds. He plays Rell's married cousin Clarence, who does team-building exercises for a living.

Rapper Method Man is drug ring chief Cheddar, eight years after he played a similar role on that same HBO drama. Not even he can resist Keanu's charms. His crew, the 17th Street Blips, kidnap the kitten after they ransack Rell's home. When Rell and Clarence find their strip club headquarters, Keanu is wearing a do-rag. In attempts to get Keanu back, Rell and Clarence pose as fellow gangster warlords. But first, they argue over who is more convincing.

"You sound like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy."

"... you sound like John Ritter, all the time."

On April 13, Key, Peele, Method Man, and actor Jason Mitchell answered questions from press at the Clermont Lounge. This is in the spirit of Keanu, whose strip club is more so a dive than Magic City, though it still blares music by Future. Yet the night before, at a screening, Key got serious. He stressed that this majority-black audience support it, so that "we can make more films for us." Straight Outta Compton, which featured Mitchell as Eazy-E, grossed $200 million worldwide. But Hollywood, with its majority-white execs, still resists casting ethnic minorities.

"I'm saying we have to pay attention," Key says at the Clermont. "We have to make business the bigger word. If there is revenue, if you make money, people will give you another chance. It comes down to green — that's the color."

"A lot of people in Hollywood still act like it's a risk to make a movie with a black cast," Peele says. "And it's just not the truth."

There is no mistaking Keanu's leading men for Straight Outta Compton's unflinching rap superheroes. They look ready to cry the first time they see a dead body. Yet by Key and Peele's own doing, they are still action heroes, if only barely by Hollywood standards.

Keanu. Directed by Peter Atencio. Stars Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Will Forte. Rated R. Opens Fri., April 29. At area theaters.

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