Thursday, March 30, 2023

‘Coffee and Kareem’ needs more sugar

Not everything streaming online right now is high art like “Honey Boy” or “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” There are plenty of fun, action-packed movies online that can help pass the time during a self-quarantine. Sadly, this is not one of those movies.

“Coffee & Kareem” stars Ed Helms as Coffee, a bumbling middle-aged cop who is dating Vanessa, played by Taraji P. Henson. Vanessa’s 12-year-old son, Kareem, played by Terrence Little Gardenhigh, is very concerned that his mother is in a mixed-race relationship — and with a cop no less. 

However, when a prank goes wrong, Coffee and Kareem put aside their differences and stand up to the city’s drug kingpin.

Director Michael Dowse came out with an entertaining, yet odd, buddy action-comedy last summer. The film “Stuber” worked because of the specificity of the comedy. It came out in the middle of July 2019, and yet the half-naked male stripper who gives Kumail Nanjiani relationship advice is still memorable. Oddly enough, there is another scene that takes place in a strip club in “Coffee & Kareem,” but the joke here is that, instead, there is a 12-year-old boy watching strippers.

There is a real lack of any creativity in the types of humor that the film conveys. It is clear this is screenwriter Shane Mack’s first feature film. Everything relies on how profane they can make Kareem sound and how often he can discuss having intimate moments with people’s mothers. The excessive expletives work in a movie like “Uncut Gems” or “Goodfellas” because it is tapping into the manic and insecure natures of the characters in these worlds. However, “Coffee & Kareem” lacks any real subtext here. 

If Coffee had some of that anger, he would have served as a really engaging character. Sadly, Helms is stuck playing the Andy Bernard-type of well to do middle-aged white man, whose privilege is usually the butt end of the jokes — in this movie they are just dead ends.

There is more talent in front of the camera, but Taraji P. Henson is underutilized; the best thing she brings to the table is her maternal care for her son. Betty Gilpin rounds out the cast as Detective Watts, Coffee’s overachieving coworker, who is sporting a plot twist anyone could see coming a mile away. This will definitely not be the 2020 movie she will be remembered for; her work in Blumhouse’s controversial thriller, “The Hunt,” was far more nuanced. 

The biggest disappointment with “Coffee & Kareem” is that the resolution to this contentious relationship should at least feel satisfying, but it feels empty because of how rushed it is. It feels like an ending to a pilot episode of a TV series: there is a literal freeze frame with the title coming up on the frame. It is as if the editor reached the 90-minute mark on the editing timeline and cut it right then and there.

There are plenty of Netflix originals that leave an empty feeling that they should have been experienced on the big screen, but “Coffee & Kareem” leaves you thankful that you didn’t pay an admission price for it.


Email Cameron Kaercher at

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