Synopsis – Twelve-year-old Kareem Manning hires a criminal to scare his mom’s new boyfriend -police officer James Coffee – but it backfires, forcing Coffee and Kareem to team up in order to save themselves from Detroit’s most ruthless drug kingpin.
My Take – While it is natural that you tend to keep expectations from certain films, involving certain crew and cast, but for some films, you just have to accept them at the face of it, such as this latest action comedy from director Michael Dowse (Goon, Stuber), which debuted on Netflix yesterday, which right from its first promo was clear what it was, and hence I went in keeping my expectations governed.
Borrowing from the action/comedy vein from the 80s, it unsurprisingly hits a lot of the beats that you’d expect from a film of this nature, but keeping the current atmosphere in mind, the whole thing turned out to be quite an affably pleasant affair.
While adult-kid team-ups are usually about learning lessons about friendship amidst being an action vehicle, here, the film does exactly that, albeit packed with profanity, vulgarity and enough gory violence to act as a funny 86 minute distraction. Sure, it’s politically incorrect, racially charged and foulmouthed, and most importantly lacks in creativity compared with other Netflix films, yet, it manages to keep one entertained thanks to the on-screen chemistry of our title duo.
The story follows James Coffee (Ed Helms), a good-nature dorky police officer, who has just started a new relationship with Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), a nurse, which is going quite good. However, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), Vanessa’s 12-year-old son, understandably, isn’t having it. In an attempt to scare away Coffee for good, Kareem steers him to a scary Detroit neighborhood and tries to hire some local goons to do the deed.
Unfortunately for them, he walks into sticky situation and ends up witnessing the murder of a corrupt police officer. Now with a target on their backs, Coffee and Kareem have no option but to partner up, and go on a dangerous chase across Detroit.
Throughout the rest of the film we are taken on a journey of personal growth in regards to both main characters. Kareem is arrogant and offensive while Coffee struggles with authority and responsibility, and so the rag- tag duo help each other to address these problems throughout the film. While the film does make attempts to address wider social issues such as race and gender, it is ultimately an over the top montage of crude jokes and ridiculous action scenes.
Director Michael Dowse‘s latest reminded me of a whole lot of films from The Other Guys to Beverly Hills Cop to The Hangover, well only if they had a kid as a lead. While the script from first time feature writer Shane Mack is more than a little cookie cutter as it runs through the expected beats of the genre as dive into the story, it ultimately manages to be very funny, well apart from several jokes about pedophilia.
There’s nothing here that’s really going to challenge audiences or deviate from other films in the canon of this genre but it’s all well executed and that’s something that honestly doesn’t get appreciated enough some times. Complying too the old adage of keep it simple and stupid is sometimes the best way to go when telling a story and the film manages that better then you’d expect because every time it does something cheap and overtly goofy it brings us back in with some genuine laughs and legitimate heartfelt moments throughout the film.
The jokes ranging from gangster complaining about KETO diet and dealing with bullying, or pausing to compliment Vanessa’s left-behind cornbread. These and other reality-shattering dumb moments are quite endearing.
There are also some high energy sequences here, like Kareem, in the middle of a chase, screams at Coffee “you can’t reason with a mad black woman! There’s like six Tyler Perry films about that!” That may not read like a laugh riot, but when Terrence Little Gardenhigh says it, it works. Most of Kareem’s schtick is swearing way more than any child is supposed to, waxing poetic on male genitalia and his supposed sexual prowess. Coffee is the straight man, a slightly toned-down version of Helms’ character from The Office and The Hangover trilogy. Luckily, director Dowse and writer Shane Mack are aware of how it looks to pair them together, and accordingly address the strange race dynamics explicitly.
Ed Helms has an affable every man kind of charm about him which allows him to play the bumbling common man roles pretty well and we buy into his journey and ultimate character evolution. Here too he nails in by bringing in the laughs at his expense. Without a doubt, young Terrence Little Gardenhigh is a natural-born comedian. Here, he shows some genuine flashes of comedic potential being the wild and unhinged comedic element next to Helms essentially playing the straight man throughout.
While, Taraji P Henson is mostly under used, she manages to kill it in some funny sequences. Betty Gilpin, is excellent once again and gets comic mileage out of her absolute, unbridled and amused contempt for Coffee, while also suggesting that the woman she’s playing is borderline crazy. RonReaco Lee and Andrew Bachelor are hilarious too, however, David Alan Grier is wasted. On the whole, ‘Coffee & Kareem’ is a standard buddy action comedy which despite it predictability manages to bring in huge amounts of laughs.
Directed – Michael Dowse
Rated – R
Run Time – 86 minutes