Director Michael Dowse comes from an eclectic filmography, but he’s becoming the go-to guy for mainstream fare. He recently brought audiences Stuber, which was an efficient buddy comedy but aggressively ordinary. But, following up a bland movie with something so unfunny and foul will make you value mediocrity. That’s *exactly* what happens with Dowse’s Netflix Original Coffee & Kareem, one of the worst movies of the year.
Ed Helms, who continues to squander his comedic stock, is typecast as pushover police officer James Coffee. He’s heckled at work for being a square despite his loyalty to his job, but he’s accepted for who he is by single mother Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson). While Vanessa and James are romantically involved, her troublemaking twelve-year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) has an axe to grind with Mom’s lame badge-wearing boyfriend. In an attempt to squeeze officer Coffee out of his life, Kareem seeks out local criminals to assist him. When Kareem accidentally walks in on illicit conspiring and a murder (with James following close behind), the crooks set out on a hot pursuit for Kareem and Coffee.
With the story taking place in a single day and the film lasting a mere 88 minutes, Coffee & Kareem still feels insufferably long and convoluted. The added burden the film carries is its tiring onslaught of shock comedy; mostly dabbling in race, homophobic, and pedophilic humour. There’s a constant disconnect between cultures that the production thinks is hilarious. If the cast isn’t using a heap of profanity to point this out, this intolerant message is carried by poor editing and misguided direction. There’s a tasteless running gag where Kareem constantly accuses James of being a child rapist, and an uncomfortable sequence featuring the kid giving the cop tips on how to be intimidating by being assertively gay (aka. strike fear into the opposing baddie by threatening them with gay sex). Advice that’s misinterpreted by Coffee, who uses this method on a crook to illustrate a deeply devoted relationship with them.
It’s gravely difficult to elevate material this sleazy. In order to do so, there has to be more to the joke than shrieks and vulgarity. There’s not one evolved joke in Coffee & Kareem but, then again, it appears that screenwriter Shane Mack is easily amused by stereotypes and screaming profanity. I feel bad for young Terrence Little Gardenhigh. Because he’s a voice for Mack’s tone-deaf comedy, the offensiveness weighs on his role; resulting in Gardenhigh giving an annoyingly tacky performance. A similar problem happens with Betty Gilpin, who plays James’ at-work nemesis. Her domineering indecency is so harsh, Gilpin often appears as a gurning amateur who doesn’t understand her character’s arrogance.
This wishy-washy movie follows a trend of “throwback comedies” where filmmakers figure they can be as politically incorrect as possible as long as they can resemble genre fodder from a different era. In the case with Coffeee & Kareem, a funky score and neon title cards try to pitch the film as an homage to 70s/80s exploitation. This doesn’t work, it’s not even an admirable attempt. Those older movies were made to entertain audiences with escapist action and comedy, whereas Coffee & Kareem seems to have been made to challenge viewers in agonizing ways.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie