The 400-Word Review: Coffee & Kareem
By Sean Collier
April 4, 2020
Let’s get this out of the way: That’s a really bad title.
The movie is called “Coffee & Kareem” because the protagonist is named James Coffee, and the troublesome son of Coffee’s girlfriend is named Kareem. Which sounds kind of close to “cream” — so, coffee and cream, you see.
That’s sort of a silly, meaningless pun on the face of it; it’s all the more baffling, though, when one considers that character names are arbitrary choices. They could’ve been named anything. They could’ve been named Dave and Dave. So pointing out the sort-of-adjacent pun in their respective names is... just a pun someone made for themselves, I guess?
I’m really stuck on these dumb names.
Anyway: Coffee (Ed Helms) is a somewhat hapless Detroit police officer, who is thrilled to be dating Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), a no-nonsense nurse. Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) can’t believe his mom is dating a cop and tries to get a meeting with a small-time crook (RonReaco Lee) to scare Coffee off. When Kareem unintentionally witnesses a killing involving crooked cops, however, the odd couple needs to unite to get out of trouble.
“Coffee & Kareem” is broad, brash slapstick; most of the jokes involve physical mayhem, strings of profanity or both. That’s not necessarily a criticism; plain old gags have their place, and Gardenhigh in particular is a prodigy at stunning deliveries of vulgarity. It is a little odd that the film also relies on over-the-top violence; I don’t expect pratfalls and dismemberments in the same scene. It’s a bold choice, anyway.
Helms, as is typical, is a bit out of his depth. He’s not a bad performer and frequently is quite funny. When left to carry too much of the load — as he did in the “Vacation” reboot — the task is beyond his particular persona. He’s not done any favors by director Michael Dowse, who is carving a niche in loud, violent comedies; his near-miss “Stuber” was a very similar picture. Dowse has some sense of timing, but is yet to demonstrate that he can hold a film together.
Fortunately, “Coffee & Kareem” has an excellent supporting cast. If the movie had been rewritten from Vanessa’s perspective, Henson would’ve certainly carried it much farther than Helms can. And Betty Gilpin and David Alan Grier shine as Coffee’s fellow cops; without them, the movie wouldn’t be worth watching. With them, it (just barely) is.
My Rating: 5/10
“Coffee & Kareem” is streaming now on Netflix.