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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele star in "Keanu."

Though it didn't originate on the hit show "Key & Peele," "Keanu" feels like a five- or six-minute sketch stretched out to feature-length. The film has one joke — Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have to pretend to be hard streetwise criminals, which they are most decidedly not — that it repeats variations of for 98 minutes. That joke is pretty funny, especially as it gives the comics room to play off of each other and the real bad asses in the room, but it shows the growing pains the two have on the big screen, where they're required to sustain a story rather than a scenario.

Rell (Peele, who co-wrote the film) is a recently-dumped stoner who gets out of a funk when an adorable kitten, which he names Keanu, shows up on his doorstep. His cousin, Clarence (Key), is a family man encouraged by his wife (Nia Long, barely there) to loosen up while she and his daughter are out of town. When Rell's home is ransacked and his kitten stolen by a dangerous dealer named Cheddar (Method Man, perhaps a cousin to his "The Wire" character, Cheese), he and Clarence pose as a pair of assassins from downtown (named, hilariously, "Shark Tank" and "Tectonic") to infiltrate Cheddar's crew and take back the cat.

Key and Peele's greatest assets as performers are their shared ability to switch from straight man to wild card on a dime, something "Keanu" gives them ample room to do. At one moment, Peele's stone-faced determination to get his cat back has him doubling down to their fake crime background, with Key's more animated eyes showing his mounting exasperation even as he keeps the act up. In the next, Key is throwing himself fully into the role as Peele strains to look just as comfortable. The two still have extraordinary chemistry with each other, whether they're faking their way through or riffing off each other, with Peele getting the best lines by comparing Key's real voice "Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy" or his over-commitment to his role to that of Daniel Day-Lewis.

But "Keanu" misses the invention and biting commentary of the stars' show. A Key example (pun intended) is Clarence's obsession with singer George Michael, which starts out funny (especially as he tries to sell him as an OG to Cheddar's crew) but hits the same notes over and over again until the appearance of "Freedom! '90" on the soundtrack is supposed to be funny in-and-of-itself; the joke plays a bit with identity, but not half as memorably as "Key & Peele."

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The supporting cast is left with a dearth of material, mostly cast as obligatory love interests (Tiffany Haddish, good in an underwritten role) or as heavies pushed to show their sensitive side. And though director Peter Atencio does well enough giving Key and Peele room to bounce off of each other, he's less adept at action, giving too many unmemorable shootouts uneasily mixed with comedy. The stars and the cute cat are enough to carry it past the finish line, but "Keanu" sputters on the way there. 

Max B. O’Connell has written about movies for websites like Indiewire, Movie Mezzanine and his blog, The Film Temple. Follow him on Twitter (@thefilmtemple) for his thoughts on film.

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