Sometimes I find myself shaking my head and asking, why did I choose to watch this movie again?
That’s what I did with COFFEE & KAREEM (2020), a new comedy on Netflix starring Ed Helms about a white cop in Detroit dating a black woman who gets involved in a madcap misadventure with the woman’s 12 year-old son after the youth attempts to have him killed. Doesn’t this sound like a fun movie? Nope.
But the trailer actually looked funny, I like Ed Helms, and I thought that perhaps this interracial plot would have something redeeming to say for our current troubled times.
And while COFFEE & KAREEM is far too dumb to provide any relevant social commentary, the one saving grace and the one thing that kept me from hating this movie is a lot of its jokes are really pretty funny. I laughed frequently, which for a comedy, is a good thing.
Coffee (Ed Helms) is a rather ineffective police officer on the Detroit police force. In fact, after he allows a drug dealer to escape from his custody, he’s relegated to traffic duty. But his problems are just beginning. See, he’s dating the lovely Vanessa Manning (Taraji P. Henson), who happens to be black, and her wannabe-gangsta twelve year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) is having none of it. His mom dating a white guy? Who’s a cop? Not on his watch! So, Kareem hatches a plan to pay a drug dealer— the same one who escaped from Coffee’s police cruiser— to teach the officer a lesson.
Of course, this being a screwball comedy, things don’t go as planned, and the next thing you know Coffee and Kareem are fleeing for their lives from violent drug dealers and crooked cops, and to survive, they have to set aside their differences and work together. Yep, it’s an old fashioned buddy comedy, this one of the father and son variety. Step-son, that is.
As plots go, this one is silly, trite, and relentlessly stupid. In fact, the plot is the worst part of the movie. It’s one of those films where because the story is so phony you wish you weren’t stuck watching it. It’s also one of those plots where every cop is crooked. Of course, in this day and age, you might be thinking, that’s not so unrealistic, but seriously, it is. And no effort is made to make any of what happens here real or believable.
But a lot of the jokes work, enough to save this one from being a complete turkey. There are some laugh out loud visual gags, one involving a hand grenade, another involving Taraji P. Henson’s violent take-down of two henchmen. Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh share frequent funny moments together, and the three drug dealer heavies channel a Three Stooges vibe throughout which is most welcome, like one scene where before they break into a house one of them rings the doorbell, and there’s a whole ensuing discussion about the stupidity of doing so.
The screenplay by Shane Mack provides plenty of comical moments, but they’re all stuck in a plot that is as boring as a routine traffic stop.
I like Ed Helms, and he’s humorous here, but Officer Coffee is a difficult character to rally around. He’s the cliche last honest guy on the police force, and while he has plenty of admirable qualities, he’s more a buffoon than anything else. Helms has been far funnier before, especially in THE HANGOVER movies, the insanity of which COFFEE & KAREEM tries to capture, but the advantage THE HANGOVER movies had, or at least the first one anyway, was that in spite of the crazy happenings, somehow it was all rooted in reality. It all seemed real, which is not the case with COFFEE & KAREEM. Helms also knocked it out of the park in dramatic fashion in CHAPPAQUIDDICK (2017), in which he played it straight as Ted Kennedy’s advisor and friend Joseph Gargan.
Terrence Little Gardenhigh has a field day as twelve year-old Kareem, and much of the movie seems to be tailored around him. Trouble is, I just didn’t find this foul-mouthed youth to be a very likable character. The R-rated comedy GOOD BOYS (2019) took a similar route with a bunch of fifth graders and turned up the vulgarity, but that film worked because one, the kids were endearing, and two, much of the raunchiness in that story happened to the kids, and the comedy was their reactions to it. Here, Kareem is anything but endearing, as his plot to have his mom’s boyfriend killed isn’t funny at all, and he’s not simply reacting to vulgar events. He’s vulgarity personified.
I like Taraji P. Henson a lot, as she has delivered some powerhouse dramatic performances in such movies as HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019). Here, she plays things for laughs, and while she’s not in this one all that much, she makes her few scenes count.
On the other hand, Betty Gilpin is wasted in a completely cliche role as the aggressive crooked cop Detective Watts. The role has no range, and Gilpin plays it one note throughout. Gilpin, who for me was the best part of the recent thriller THE HUNT (2020), is not allowed to do much here other than be combative and crazy.
I did enjoy RonReaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and William “Big Sleeps” Stewart as the three drug dealing baddies, who as I said channeled a Three Stooges vibe throughout and made me laugh nearly every time they were on screen.
COFFEE & KAREEM was directed by Michael Dowse. He must like buddy comedies, because he also directed STUBER (2019), a buddy comedy starring Dave Bautista as a cop who recruits the help of his Uber driver Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani. STUBER was an amiable comedy, but it also wasn’t anything to write home about.
COFFEE & KAREEM is a subpar comedy that will not have you reminiscing about the buddy cop comedies of old, except to recall how much better they were. There are laughs to be sure, and this is to be commended, but the unrealistic story was a snooze, so in spite of the jokes, I found this one hard to sit through.
As much as I like coffee, this one had me yearning for tea.