Ed Helms is back in the driver’s seat — of a cop car — in the new Netflix film “Coffee & Kareem.” As a 12-year-old boy, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), the rap-loving, foul-mouthed son of Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson) hires a thug to mess with his mom’s boyfriend, Coffee (Helms), the pair find themselves fighting for their lives and justice. It’s a slapstick, raunchy comedy that has its moments, but just not enough of them.
Coffee is dating Vanessa, against many of her friends’ better judgment, and Kareem is none too happy about it either. A bit of a troublemaker at school, Kareem finds that his unsavory connection to a major drug dealer is exactly what he needs to get rid of Coffee. Inadvertently, Kareem witnesses a brutal murder of a dirty cop who is involved with the thug he intends to hire. Coffee attempts to save the young boy from being the next victim as Kareem has captured the event on his iPhone. Together, again reluctantly so, they must dig deeper into the drug ring to not only save themselves but Vanessa as well.
There’s lots of action in this film, most of which is completely absurd, but it does elicit a few laughs. What is most comedic is Coffee’s reputation within the police department, being more of a Barney Fife than a John McClane, he’s the butt of everyone’s jokes. Helms comfortably portrays this inept officer without a spine allowing everyone to walk all over him. Even Coffee’s captain played by David Alan Grier has no confidence in his skills, particularly when matched against his superior officer’s (Betty Gilpin) reputation. This point is hammered home when the two must confront one another and the antagonistic and comedic banter begins.
The story line is nothing short of predictable, but the gratuitous violence was a surprising element and not a welcomed one. Gardenhigh is a fast-talking, quick witted kid who easily engages with the viewer, but the level of offensive and unnecessary language takes away from what could have been a fun flick for the family.
Helms and Gardenhigh have great chemistry together as the two get to know one another, but the inconsistent pacing in this film, unfortunately, takes away from this element. Henson portrays Vanessa as a strong, independent mom who doesn’t take any flack from anyone … except her darling son. While she doesn’t have a lot of screen time, when she is there, she commands your attention and creates a few opportunities to laugh. She’s the epitome of your best friend’s mom who you’d never mess with and respect her all that much more because of it.
By the final third of the film, what we see before us is a muddled mess as the film becomes even more incredibly and disturbingly violent. And awkwardly, we see Coffee attempt to explain his childhood and life choices resulting in his less than stellar law enforcement career. These moments of self-realization slam on the story’s brakes only to hit the violence accelerator moments later. With this pacing, the gore of seeing a body explode into pieces with a head left behind, and a convoluted story trying to save itself at the end with quick explanations from the characters, it’s a film that misses the mark.
Raunchy comedies can be a lot of fun, and this one certainly had potential given the talent involved, but it just couldn’t deliver in a consistent way.
Rating: 1½ stars