The latest Netflix Original offering, a sentence that gets old within days amongst the never-ending relay of content, that they tirelessly put out and we gobble up like candy. Directed by Michael Dowse (What If, Stuber) and written by Shane Mack, when Officer Coffee (Ed Helms) starts dating Kareem’s (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) mom (Taraji P. Henson), he quickly decides he’s not good enough for his mother and he’ll have to get rid of him with the help of a local gangster. When his plan inevitably goes awry, Coffee and Kareem must work together to stay alive. Also starring: Betty Gilpin, RonReaco Lee, David Alan Grier, Andrew Bachelor and William ‘Big Sleeps’ Stewart.
(If you haven’t clicked about the title’s pun, give it another think. It says a lot.)
It can’t be ignored that this is a ridiculous concept and not particularly original either, take a bumbling cop and add a sidekick with a dislike for that cop, with a big personality, then for a bonus add an age difference, it’s a ready-made recipe. While they clearly weren’t going for any type of challenge with this feature, there’s still value in making something for entertainment’s sake despite its unoriginality, which means it needs to be funny. Comedy isn’t an easy genre these days, most releases don’t hit the right note, it’s rare to get a genuinely funny film start to finish, and this is not one of those rare occasions. While there are some good laughs to be found, it’s probably a ratio of 40-60 to those that are funny or jokes that just fall flat, respectively. There’s a large amount that misses the mark for several reasons, partially it’s tired, lengthy jokes about racism, and some are just thrown in amongst everything and there isn’t time for them to land. However, having a character like Kareem is always going to be easy entertainment, he’s young, he likes to swear with exaggerated swagger, masculinity and non-existent sexual prowess, because he’s 12, it’s easy and reliable content but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Gardenhigh is a clearly the treasure here, he’s this generation’s Bobb’e J. Thompson in Role Models, no filters and endless energy, a personality that’s booming and plenty of age-inappropriate dialogue. It may not be his first role but hopefully this will lead to more as he’s a pleasure to watch. It’s surprising given that Netflix should know the value of having Betty Gilpin in their cast, from her work on GLOW, that they kept her pretty hidden in the trailer with only brief glimpses, however this works in your favour because her appearance and performance are a fantastic surprise. Gilpin is an utter joy of unhinged aggression in this film and she’s capable of such brilliant performances, it’s a shame she doesn’t get the appreciation or roles that her level of talent deserves. It’s a similar story for Henson because despite slaying audiences with her role as Cookie on Empire and opening up the world’s eyes about the women who worked at NASA in Hidden Figures, she gets stuck with roles like this where she’s simply hitting stereotype after stereotype. Her work in the film is entertaining but it’s predictable and a role that doesn’t feel much of a challenge. Helms is also another that’s proceeding with yet another role of the bumbling, awkward white man, who has a much more attractive girlfriend which baffles to figure out how that relationship would have started. He’s an enjoyable actor to watch and does a good job with the role but it’s sadly uninteresting from him at this point. Another highlight however is the three stooges of gangsters in the form of Lee, Bachelor and Stewart, these three are hilarious to watch and provide a lot of the strongest comedy in the film.
The writing here isn’t going to floor anyone as it’s hardly new but what’s more surprising is the sincere lack of effort to keep any attention to detail, there are several glaringly obvious continuity errors that it’s genuinely disappointing to see. There’s weapons that are dropped while running but then miraculously have re-appeared when they’re useful to the current scene, there’s characters getting plastered with clouds of drugs right in the face and yet having no effect on them, there’s people going to use phones that were very clearly taken from them in previous scenes; it’s lazy, and simply not an appropriate level of care for a film that clearly would have had the time and money to spend making sure things like that didn’t happen.
There’s plenty of homages to classic cop movies that re-iterate the style that the film is going for but it’s one that we know, loved and are now getting tired of. At this point in time, a film purely for entertainment’s sake is something we need and Coffee & Kareem is a film that provides that but it doesn’t mean it isn’t falling into the classic traps of laziness and inattention that plague a lot of straight to digital content from Netflix, similar to Spenser Confidential but with more entertainment value this time around. It’s a solid cast who perform well with a mediocre script but there’s laughs to be found and if you need an easy watch to take your mind off the stressful world right now, then go for it.