LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Fans and critics were crushed when comedic duo Key and Peele ended their Comedy Central TV show last year. Their sketches riffed on race in America, like Jordan Peele as President Obama and Keegan-Michael Key as Luther, his anger translator.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KEY AND PEELE")
PEELE: (As Barack Obama) Good evening, my fellow Americans. As you know, I've received my fair share of criticism from the Republican Party.
KEY: (As Luther) I can't even give Malia an allowance without them accusing me of wealth redistribution.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now Key and Peele are back in the buddy comedy "Keanu." They star as regular guys posing as gangsters, all to rescue an adorable kitten called Keanu. And beyond that, I'm going to let Wesley Morris do the explaining. He's critic-at-large for The New York Times. Welcome.
WESLEY MORRIS: Thank you. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very well. So Key and Peele and a kitten - sounds like a joke waiting to happen. What is this movie about?
MORRIS: Well, first it's about how adorable kittens apparently are because I sat next to two women who I didn't know. But by the time this movie was over, all of the aweing and, like, gushing - but the movie itself is fun. You know, it's not perfect. But Key and Peele are really welcome people to have in your movies, honestly.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's listen to a clip here. This is Key and Peele, and they're going to confront the drug dealer who has Keanu. And he's got quite a name. His name is Cheddar.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KEANU")
KEY: (As Clarence Goobril) What's so scary about cheddar?
PEELE: (As Rell Williams) Cheddar is a psychopath name. You only name yourself something adorable if you can back it up.
KEY: (As Clarence Goobril) I don't think that's a thing.
PEELE: (As Rell Williams) That's a thing. If you meet a guy named Fluffy Pink Bunny-Head, he will stab you in the eye.
KEY: (As Clarence Goobril) I'm sure...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did this feel like it was skits strung together, or did it feel like this actually had sort of an arc and a point?
MORRIS: Well, I mean, it definitely has a point, and it also has an arc. It also has traces of other "Key and Peele" sketches. There's a thing that Keegan-Michael Key does where he code-switches on the phone with his woman when a black person passes him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's when you're talking in one way when you're with people of your own race or ethnicity, and then you switch when you're maybe speaking to people of a different race or ethnicity.
MORRIS: Or - or in this case - and in a lot of cases, what code-switching also is is doubling down on how black you are to other black people...
MORRIS: ...While talking to a different black person, which is how it happens in this movie. What the "Key and Peele" characters are doing is they have to pretend to be gangsters to convince him to give them the cat back.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, you've written about how they deal with race, and you wrote that Key and Peele manage the difficult achievement of locating what's funny about race without losing what's disturbing about racism. Do you think that their comedy sort of derives off of, like, this very particular moment right now that we're experiencing in America?
MORRIS: Well, that was what was so sad about the TV show just not existing anymore and their moving to the movies, which is that you had a reliable format for these two men to explore all of the weird things that were happening in this country. And I think at the end, as the country sort of took this hard turn into a darker place on how we were reacting to race and racism, the show kind of darkened, too. But I don't think these are guys who want to stay in the darkness forever. And so I think that the sad note the show ended on freed them to do other things. It freed them to make movies that are lighter than the TV show would've been if they stayed on the air.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hence, including the cat.
MORRIS: Yes, you get a much different audience than you'd get if you just sold this as a bunch of dudes with guns shooting each other for 90 minutes. The cat really - the cat really leavens that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much for speaking with us.
MORRIS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wesley Morris, critic-at-large for The New York Times, talking about Key and Peele's new movie "Keanu."
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