Coffee and Kareem movie review: Ed Helms' Nexflix Original mistakes nastiness for coolth in a formulaic buddy cop comedy
In Coffee and Kareem, a precocious tween teams up with his mother's new boyfriend, a white cop, to take down a group of criminals.
castEd Helms, Taraji P Henson, Terrence Little Gardenhigh, Betty Gilpin, Ronreaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, David Alan Grier
It takes a special kind of gumption to make a film like Coffee and Kareem seem like a promising fare with its snazzy trailer. But this Netflix Original, much like the titular pun, seems like a feature-length version of a dad joke pumped with unwarranted profanities.
The film follows an utterly middling white police officer James Coffee (Ed Helms), who has recently begun dating a black woman Vanessa Manning (Taraji P Henson). However, Vanessa's 12-year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) does not approve of her mother's current boyfriend because he is a white man without the financial perks of being white.
Thus, this precocious boy plans to hire a criminal fugitive Orlando Johnson (RonReaco Lee) to scare Coffee off out of their lives. Things start spiraling out of control when Kareem and Coffee accidentally get involved in a nexus of drugs and corrupt cops.
While a premise that rings decidedly familiar, a la the '90s mismatched buddy comedies like Cop and a Half, the team attempts to rejig the predictable formula.
The problem is, it mistakes nasty for coolth, making its tween protagonist crack rape and child sex abuse jokes, racial jokes, and spew such graphic expletives that the cringe far exceeds the nostalgia of the good ol' times.
Not only is Kareem a brat, he also does not shy away from reciting to his school teacher in front of the entire class, "I have been fiending for sushi, my face wrapped in your coochie."
Such a jarring sequence serves a primer to the steadfastly tone-deaf nature of the film. At one point, Coffee and Kareem even descends into Housefull and Bol Bachchan-esque homophobic humour. Kareem, in one of the first "bonding" scenes between the two protagonists, explains to Coffee how he can ward off bullies with aggressive and "gay" trash talk. Predictably then, Coffee uses the advice to "scare" a criminal.
It is perhaps an overstretch to expect an inherently frivolous film to offer acrid jibes at the system. Set in Detroit, which has the highest percentage of black residents of any American city, Coffee and Kareem sure does touch upon the issue of a black child being uncomfortable around a white cop but the treatment is so flippant that the graveness of police brutality is never driven home — it is reduced to just another narrative device for glib quips.
But this is not to say Coffee and Kareem is thoroughly unfunny. There is plenty of harmless fun to be had — the kind promised in the trailer, the kind it was unable to deliver with its precocious 12-year-old protagonist — but it all arrives in the third act. Much of it stems from Coffee's exchanges with his brutally sassy colleague Detective Linda Watts (Betty Gilpin). There is unadulterated joy in seeing women, even if they are crooked cops, whooping asses of grown entitled men. It is when the central characters recede to the background, and Linda and Vanessa take charge that the film reaches its unhinged potential — mutilated bodies fly around, dismembered hands hang from cash-stuffed briefcases. and criminals grumble about having to follow the Keto diet.
But the problem lies with the confused positioning of the film. Directed by Michael Dowse and written by Shane Mack, Coffee and Kareem really does not know what it wants to be, a satire on the corruption of the legal system, a commentary on racial inequality or a comedy without the baggage of an ulterior moral lesson. In the climactic sequence, Vanessa reprimands everyone around her for their problematic actions, almost in a bid to absolve the film creators of the accountability to be a responsible storyteller.
It is a pity the zaniest part of Coffee and Kareem comes at the wee end of the film, when all the characters come under the same roof, hinting at the possibility of what could have been had the film not meandered along with its annoying leads.
All images from YouTube.
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