On paper, I guess I know what Netflix was trying to get at with Coffee & Kareem. Let’s make a buddy-cop comedy with an ineffectual Ed Helms character as the boy in blue and his sidekick a “streetwise beyond his years” Terrence Little Gardenhigh. Together, the dichotomy between their ages, appearance and background would be enough for plenty of R-rated laughs.
The set up is simple, Coffee (Helms) is dating Kareem’s (Gardenhigh) mom, Taraji P. Henson of Empire fame. In the opening scenes we’re served a mildly gratuitous and failed sex scene between the two adults, which leads to our first encounter with Kareem. While sitting on the toilet in his middle school he drops a string of f#@$s a mile long, tells a hall monitor to suck his d@#$ and offers up a number of other parts of the diatribe that hammer home a certainty for Coffee & Kareem: the plan is to make a decidedly R-rated (or worse) comedy and the jokes will be in the form of Kareem’s ruthless raunch. Not a single body part will be spared in regards to either sexual or violent references.
Movies that choose to do this, mainly make a young teenager the point of contact for the R-rating CAN work. Good Boys pulled it off most recently with a hilarious showing about a trio of kids who were fish out of water when it came to the trappings of the young adult world.
There are levels of ridiculous comedy that could never happen in real life but still stay relatively grounded in some sense of normal or innocence that make the over-the-top moments seem all that much sweeter. Superbad, Good Boys, The Hangover and Old School come to mind and even “cop” comedies like 21 Jump Street, The Other Guys, and Central Intelligence pull this off to hilarious results. Coffee & Kareem, doesn’t.
The problem (among many things) with the Kareem character is from the outset he’s supposed to be not only the crassest of the crew but also the most knowledgeable and streetwise. He’s consistently the boss in every interaction with everyone else in the movie. Meanwhile, Helms’s Coffee is a bumbling fool, the mom is clueless, the villains are somehow even dumber and Kareem is leveraging these known pieces along with an almost NC-17 vocabulary to “take over”. What Coffee & Kareem produces is an incredibly weird, and not all that funny dynamic.
The two are working to solve a murder that Kareem witnessed (and took fully in stride by the way) and are thrown into increasingly idiotic situations and dialogue that get harder to watch with each passing moment.
A vast majority of the jokes and interplay between the aforementioned characters ins Coffee & Kareem land like lead bricks. It’s already awkward to have adult and sexual interplay discussions between characters in the best of times. Having it go on between an adult and a 13-year-old is just plain awkward, maybe even “icky” if we’re really getting down to it. There are even some veiled references to pedophilia that go by with a wink and a nod.
It’s a shame too because director Michael Dowse’s Stuber (41%), What If (73%) and Goon (81%) has been *mostly* well-received. Goon was especially endearing in how it handled love in the time of ice hockey meathead-ness. It was almost tender in its violence and there’s a reason it has a cult following.
But this latest accomplishes nothing with its tone. There’s one five minute stretch in which Kareem “knowledgeably” talks about (and I’m going to need all of you kids out there to put on some earmuffs) “eating ass”, having his “d@#$” sucked, putting his “d@#$ in an ass”, spitting on his “d@#$”, f@#$ing more in the ass and do I really need to keep going here?
I suspect the only crowd Coffee & Kareem will land with is 13-year-olds who got access to their parents’ Netflix accounts and watched on the sly. The thought of one of their own being this outward and derelict would probably be amusing. But I’d also feel unsettled about that age of kid watching the movie to begin with.
In all, Coffee & Kareem became a tough watch. I struggled to even finish because at some point, pretty early on I found it somewhat abhorrent. And I’m no prude. This isn’t a clutching-pearls moment, deriding the downfall of innocence through adult subject matter around kids. No, I already said there are plenty of movies in this realm that have really worked. This just wasn’t one of them.
In the end, Coffee & Kareem set out to be a buddy-cop comedy with a real cop and his overly aggressive tween buddy. What it ends up being is a near rock bottom movie with almost no redeeming features at all. If our robotic review scoring system could go into negative numbers I would, because Coffee & Kareem fails on almost every level and is likely to be borderline damaging to some audiences.