Key & Peele Pay Tribute to ‘90s Action Films in ‘Keanu’


Jordan Peele as Rell in New Line Cinema's action comedy Keanu, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Steve Dietl. © 2016 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC.

On April 20, at the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, Academy Art U News had the opportunity to sit down with the comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who are behind the hilarious new comedy Keanu. The film follows the very early adventures of a young kitten named Keanu (for the Hawaiian word meaning "cool breeze"), his accidental owner Rell Williams (Peele) and his uptight cousin Clarence Goobril (Key).

Peele said that they wanted to culminate the stories that worked so well for their unbelievably popular comedy show, Key and Peele. "We basically needed a way to sum up the style of comedy that we had on our show, and we wrote this movie as kind of like The Three Amigos meets New Jack City, where we get thrown into this world that we're just not prepared for," he said.

The film is just that, capturing everything that fans love about Key and Peele, along with what Key said is a compilation of all of the action-packed comedies from the ‘90s that the two men love. "There's no sense of the movie being a 'stoner movie' or anything like that. The name of the film actually is to connote homage to the type of movies that we really love that made us passionate about movies,” said Key of their efforts to make a film like those they idolized. “We're talking the mid ‘90s, so even your standard action film in the mid ‘90s didn't feel rote. There was always more care, there was always more pizzazz put into them back then."

In addition to creating homage to work that they admired, Keanu has become a film that also encourages people to rescue pets that are in need of good homes. In the film, Keanu the kitten is a most coveted kitten by some pretty violent drug lords and there is definitely hilarity that ensues, but Peele did reveal that after the script was completed, it was quite obvious that this film was perfect to promote animal adoption. "We ultimately came up with Keanuas a way to link it all together and give it this emotional stake so that the audience could fall in love with the mascot of the movie," said Peele. Key added that the story and the film's humanitarian efforts "dovetailed" the two quite nicely.


"I knew pretty early that we needed to preach the adoption of cats with this movie,” said Peele. “We of course love all animals. I have a dog. We're dog people too. [We are in support of] all animals in need.”

The production rescued seven kittens to play the role of Keanu. They had to train these kittens quickly because they all needed to be the same size throughout the film to ensure there was continuity. Two of the kittens were trained to perform the stationary movements in addition to the kittens performing "stunts."


Keanu the cat in New Line Cinema's action comedy Keanu, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2016 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC.

There was one scene in particular where Peele’s character, Rell, is in jail and the kitten playing Keanu put its paw up to the glass to where his hand is. Key said that Peele is great at improvisation and would "just keep on noodling.” The kitten would even leave the frame and then come back, and Peele would stay in character so as to get something usable for the scene.

The comedians’ new film and TV show have received such unexpected attention that the two claim they could never have guessed what they were going to be in store for. "When we set out to make a TV show, [it] ended up being this online phenomenon that was the bread and butter of what we did," said Peele. He's still shocked when families come up to him and say how they heard about the duo from their son or nephew or cousin. "I could never have predicted [the success of the show]," said Peele.

Keanu is now playing in theaters.