Comedy is one of the toughest movie genres to get right. Even the most talented comedic actors in the world can seem like hacks if the writing isn’t up to par. And too often a writer tries to cover up his or her lack of skills with elements designed to shock, hoping the audience will figure laughing at over-the-top things is better than not laughing at all.
A prime example of that type of cover-up is on display in Netflix’s Coffee & Kareem, a title that is eyeroll-worthy on two levels. The title stems from the pairing of James Coffee (Ed Helms), an error-prone police officer, and Kareem Manning (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), a 12-year-old boy whose mother, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), is dating Coffee. But since Coffee is white and Kareem is black, it’s also supposed to be a reverse twist on the pairing of coffee and cream, get it? GET IT?
Annnnyway, Kareem doesn’t like his mother dating Coffee, so he tries to enlist a local drug dealer to take him out — you know, that old familiar story. However, Coffee’s bungling screws up the deal, another officer gets killed, and Coffee & Kareem have to go on a series of adventures to clear Coffee’s name and expose some other bad officers along the way.
If it’s exhausting trying to explain the movie, that’s nothing next to actually watching it. You see, this is one of those times when the filmmakers — first-time feature film screenwriter Shane Mack and director Michael Dowse — think it’s hilarious to have a kid spew enough profanities to last anyone’s lifetime. What’s mildly amusing the first few times a curse word comes out of his lips soon becomes tiresome and just plain lazy.
Of course, it’s part and parcel of the film as a whole, which features Coffee wrestling with the drug dealer in a room full of cocaine, the kidnapping of an unconscious Vanessa by Coffee and Kareem, and a performance by Betty Gilpin as a dirty cop that’s so hammy that you almost feel sorry for her having to deliver it.
Despite all of that, the film does manage to amuse on a few occasions thanks to Helms and Henson. Helms, especially sporting a mustache, has the inherent look of a pushover, and his reactions to the craziness his character either causes or witnesses are mildly diverting. Henson, as she’s shown in multiple other roles, doesn’t fear anybody, and when she’s given a chance to unleash here, she plays it for all it’s worth.
Netflix is already one of the prime beneficiaries of the shutdown caused by the coronavirus, but no one should rush to watch Coffee & Kareem. It’s a film that consistently takes the low road with no regard for the potholes it finds along the way.