Netflix UK film review: Coffee & Kareem
Ivan Radford | On 05, Apr 2020
Director: Michael Dowse
Cast: Ed Helms, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Little Gardenhigh
Watch Coffee & Kareem online in the UK: Netflix UK
“You were BFFs with a grown adult? There are literally documentaries on Netflix about why that’s wrong.” That’s the sound of a 12-year-old delivering some hard-hitting wisdom to a grown adult who’s trying to be his BFF. The adult? James Coffee (Ed Helms), who’s dating Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), the mum of the kid, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh). To say that Kareem’s wisdom comes with a side order of swearing is an understatement – he talks with a mouth filthier than year-old wellies.
A child saying inappropriate things can be a source of smart, witty humour. In Coffee & Kareem, though, it’s mostly an excuse for a lot of swearing, and while a classic odd-couple premise is at its heart, the movie’s main source of tension is trying to find the balance between outrageous and simply crude.
Shane Mack’s script, which was on the Black List several years ago, has a strong understanding of his characters: there’s Coffee, a cop who means well but is also incompetent; there’s Vanessa, a tough mother who doesn’t take nonsense, knows what she wants and also knows that Coffee’s a good guy; and there’s Kareem, who, in the absence of a father figure, has become influenced by toxic expectations and ideas, to the point where he hires a criminal to scare off Coffee.
The resulting scenario, which puts them on the run from bad guys, has genuine promise in the way it pulls apart the pair’s inability to communicate across generations, not to mention the social constructs and racial barriers that underly Kareem’s uneasy, understandable distrust. One interrogation scene early on is genuinely inspired. Some of the best moments are when they – and the villains – are called out by Taraji P. Henson’s straight-talking mother, who really comes into her own when the script gives her lines worth delivering. (Betty Gilpin as a nasty cop also steals every scene she’s in.)
Director Michael Dowse, who gave us the delightful Goon, has a real grasp of how to mix physical violence and comedy with heart, but every time he sets up an action sequence ripe for undermining, Mack’s screenplay backs away from big topics or sincere sentiment and relies instead on potty-mouthed one-liners. The result is an occasionally entertaining joy ride that, no matter how much caffeine you take, can’t disguise its uneven tone. Half buddy cop movie, half family comedy, it’s all over the place.
Darkest Hour is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.