Empire (UK) - - PREMIERE -

N A HOT LOUISIANA day, Em­pire is in the grounds of a man­sion with a huge out­door foun­tain. It’s the sort of place usu­ally owned by cin­e­matic drug lords that winds up as the lo­ca­tion for a full-on shootout. And, right on cue, a hail of bul­lets smashes into the wall of said foun­tain, while Jordan Peele, one half of ar­guably the hottest com­edy duo right now, dives for cover and crawls on his belly to a safer po­si­tion. “It’s our trib­ute to Scar­face,” beams Peele’s part­ner, Kee­gan­michael Key. “But more grounded.”

For the past five years, Key and Peele have worked on, well, Key & Peele, one of the sharpest sketch shows on US TV. Most com­edy dou­ble acts, whether it’s More­cambe & Wise, Pegg & Frost or Ant & Dec, even­tu­ally out­grow the small screen and head for the big. Which led Key, Peele and long-time direc­tor Peter Aten­cio to Keanu.

It’s not, as you might sus­pect, a biopic of ev­ery­one’s favourite Beirut-born ac­tion star, but an ac­tion­com­edy about a cat. Keanu is a pre­cious kit­ten be­long­ing to Peele’s Rell. When he is cat­napped, our hap­less heroes — Peele a dead­beat stoner, Key an up­tight fam­ily man — are plunged into a mael­strom of mad­cap misad­ven­tures and a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Ge­orge Michael. “Given what we do,” says Key, “it seemed log­i­cal to make our first movie a ca­per. It has kind of a Fletch feel to it.” The duo’s other in­spi­ra­tions range from Heat to The Last Boy Scout. “It’s very close to how Kee­gan and I would act if we found our­selves in these cir­cum­stances,” adds Peele, who co-wrote with Alex Rubens.

The de­ci­sion to make the Macguf­fin an adorable kitty was a no-brainer. “We knew the movie had to have heart,” says Key. “Plus we thought we could make a bil­lion dol­lars rather than a hun­dred mil­lion with a cute lit­tle kit­ten.” The ra­tio­nale for his name is less clear. “Keanu Reeves is the only guy we know called Keanu,” ex­plains Peele. “We fig­ured the world de­served an­other one.” Which is, per­haps, all the ra­tio­nale you need. SI­MON BRAUND


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