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‘Coffee & Kareem’ a lukewarm cup of comedy

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Every movie begins with an idea, a seed that one hopes will ultimately grow into something appealing. Sometimes, that idea is a plot point or an aesthetic concept. Sometimes, it involves a character and/or the actor who plays said character. And sometimes, it’s … something else.

Take “Coffee & Kareem,” a new streaming offering that hit Netflix on April 3. Near as I can figure, this movie exists because someone thought that was a funny title and decided to reverse-engineer a film from there. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the end result was not good.

What we have here is a lukewarm and forgettable cup of movie, one that carries the slapdash algorithmically-generated vibe that often marks the less-successful of the streaming service’s original offerings. There’s relatively little humor to be found in the ostensible comedy, and what you do find is so utterly awash in flop sweat as to be rendered ineffective. The film is tonally confused and not nearly as clever as it wants you to think it is.

Jim Coffee (Ed Helms, “Corporate Animals”) is an officer with the Detroit Police Department. He’s a good guy, albeit a bit on the mild-mannered side. He’s in a relationship with Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson, “The Best of Enemies”), a single mother whose foul-mouthed son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh in his feature debut) doesn’t care for the fact that his mom is dating a cop – and a white guy at that.

Coffee is on the outs at work. The hard-edged Detective Watts (Betty Gilpin, “The Hunt”) thinks he’s a joke – an attitude not helped by the fact that he inadvertently let an important suspect by the name of Orlando Johnson (RonReaco Lee, TV’s “The First Wives Club”) escape on his watch. Captain Hill (David Alan Grier, “Native Son”) tries to be supportive, but ultimately relegates Coffee to traffic duty.

In the midst of all this, Vanessa asks Coffee to pick Kareem up from school. Unbeknownst to Coffee, Kareem has a plan – he wants to pay some dudes to beat Coffee up. However, when Kareem goes to enlist them (a group that includes Orlando), he stumbles onto a frightening scene – a group of men holding a cop hostage. Apparently, the cop is one of several involved in a corrupt drug scheme and has made a misstep – a misstep for which he pays with his life.

Kareem witnesses all of this, with Coffee showing up upon hearing shots fired. The two flee the scene. However, circumstances lead the police department to believe that Coffee has gone rogue and is responsible for the death of the officer and a wealth of other crimes. He has no choice but to try and figure out who is behind this drug ring, all while not knowing who – if anyone – he can trust in the department.

Oh, and the whole time, he must deal with waves of active antagonism coming from Kareem, who has his own ideas about how this whole thing should go.

“Coffee & Kareem” feels like a pastiche, a loosely-connected collection of ideas thrown together with little regard to whether or not the seams are showing. Its influences are glaringly obvious, if not particularly well-executed; basically, the filmmakers have jammed the foul-mouthed child trope into a buddy cop movie. Could it have worked? Sure. Does it in this case? Absolutely not.

Director Michael Dowse – the man responsible for last year’s not-good comedy “Stuber” – gives us, well … the sort of movie you’d expect from the guy responsible for “Stuber.” He’s not entirely to blame, though – screenwriter Shane Mack’s script is riddled with tonal inconsistencies and odd choices. There just isn’t much there; you can only rely on recycled cop tropes and cursing children for so long.

(It’s worth noting that I, being an idiot teenager at heart, absolutely love it when kids curse. Swearing children is one of my favorite comedy go-tos. The fact that this movie features one so prominently, yet still can’t curry my favor, is probably the most damning criticism that can be levied against it. I am your target audience, “Coffee & Kareem,” yet you couldn’t land me.)

I want to say that Ed Helms is better than this, but … is he? It has been a LONG time since I was genuinely engaged by what he brings to the table. He’s basically all “Aw gee whiz” milquetoast with a mustached here. Henson probably is better than this, but her character’s not much more than a plot device, so there’s not much for her to do. As for the kid – I wanted to like him, but the truth is that Gardenhigh’s portrayal is REALLY unlikeable. I blame the director and the screenwriter far more than I do the kid; he’s got charisma, but he’s playing this as just an unsympathetic jerk. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, although Gilpin really goes for it in a way; she feels like she’s almost in a different movie, but at least she’s entertaining to watch.

“Coffee & Kareem” isn’t good, but it isn’t actively unpleasant. You might get a chuckle or two out of it, but not much more. Basically, it’s something new to half-watch while you look at your phone. And honestly, that’s probably all Netflix needs it to be.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 05 April 2020 09:13

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