PLOT: A clumsy cop (Ed Helms) agrees to pick his girlfriend’s (Taraji P. Henson) trouble-making son (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) from school one afternoon, only for the kid to witness a gangland slaying involving dirty cops, putting the mismatched pair on the run.
REVIEW: I wasn’t overly eager to check out Netflix’s new comedy, COFFEE & KAREEM, with the thought being that if the rest of the movie is as stale as the title’s pun (Ed Helms is Coffee, Terrence Little Gardenhigh is Kareem – a joke recycled from a fifty year old Sammy Davis Jr./ Peter Lawford movie, SALT & PEPPER) it probably wouldn’t be worth reviewing. However, my mind was changed by two things. One is that with COVID-19, there’s virtually nothing out so an eighty-minute comedy is now essentially the movie event of the month, the other is that it’s directed by Michael Dowse. Dowse is a perennially underrated guy, but he’s made a few classics, including FUBAR, GOON and IT’S ALL GONE PETE TONG. Plus, THE F-WORD, TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT, and the recent STUBER, which I kinda liked.
Sure enough, COFFEE & KAREEM is better than the stale title might have you think. While far from a slam dunk, there are enough belly laughs in this one to make it well worth a watch. It’s basically a hardcore R-rated version of COP & A HALF, with Ed Helms playing very close to type as the nerdy cop who’s totally freaked out by his girlfriend’s foul-mouthed twelve-year-old, with Gardenhigh funny if a little too much of a caricature as the gangsta-wannabe kid.
When Kareem tries to hire a local gangster to knock-off Coffee with a sock full of loot from his piggy bank, the movie is maybe stretching the premise a little too far, with Kareem initially presented as a kind of mini-sociopath. The relationship between the two of them warms up a little, but truth be told, the thing that makes COFFEE & KAREEM worth watching is the supporting cast, all of whom mercilessly steal scenes from the stars.
Chief among them is Betty Gilpin, as Coffee much more capable but also psychotic collegue, whose somehow even more off the wall here than she was in THE HUNT, with her well on her way to becoming a kind of female Nicolas Cage, and I mean that as the highest compliment. Whenever she’s on screen your eyeballs are glued to what she’s doing, and Helms, for his part, seems willing to take a back seat to her when they’re on screen together, not that he has much choice. The manic glee she shows off throughout the film is something to behold, and the crazier she gets the more watchable the movie becomes. Luckily, she all but dominates the film’s second half.
Some of the baddies are funny too, especially Andrew Bachelor as probably the screen’s most sensitive henchman, with him having a really funny fight scene with Taraji P. Henson, who dials it down a bit as probably the sanest person in the film. David Alan Grier also has one hilarious scene with Gilpin and Helms, while some of the offhand jokes (such as when Kareem calls a hulking black bodyguard Blade and a bit where he references BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS) being funnier than any of the big setpieces.
All in all, COFFEE & KAREEM is nothing more than a quickie 88-minute comedy, something that probably wouldn’t have been worth paying to see in theatres but plays perfectly well on Netflix. It’s good for a handful of honest belly laughs, while Gilpin chews the scenery with the best of them. She needs another legit star vehicle like THE HUNT – fast.