Coffee & Kareem Review: Ed Helms’ Crass Netflix Comedy Won’t Be Everyone’s Cup of Tea

Coffee & Kareem, Ed Helms, Taraji P. Henson, Television News, Terrence Little Gardenhigh

I once attended a friend’s birthday party and his mom, a chef, produced her much heralded triple chocolate cake. I took a bite and wow, it was deep and rich and flavorful, and I showered her with praise. I took a second and third bite and then I experienced something very unusual. I was unable to finish dessert. The piece of cake was a reasonable size, but it was so dense that it eventually became unbearable.

This is a lot like the latest Netflix offering Coffee and Kareem, a film that starts off extremely funny, but becomes overwhelming by the end. My wife was laughing right alongside me on the couch as we started, but by minute 30 she’d tapped-out. I, a professional, soldiered on.

But here’s an important twist. It isn’t that the movie “got bad” as it continued. Had I parachuted into the middle, then those 30 minutes would have been delightful. It’s the cumulative effect that’s the problem.

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However, if you are made of sturdier stuff, maybe you can handle the full hour-and-a-half from Michael Dowse, director of the terrific hockey flick Goon and last summer’s Kumail Nanjiani/Dave Bautista action-comedy Stuber. In this one, a first feature script from Shane Mack, Ed Helms is the dorky joke of the Detroit police department, James Coffee. His new(ish) girlfriend is single mom Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), and though they have something of a cultural divide, their affection for one another is warm and pure. The problem, and, indeed, the star of this film, is Vanessa’s 12-year-old troublemaker son, Kareem.

Newcomer Terrence Little Gardenhigh is a natural-born comedy tornado. As Kareem, he is a Tasmanian devil of bad taste. He deals in lewdness as Michelangelo did in marble. Phallocentric and scatological references, sexual barbarism, gay panic pantomime, offensive racial comments, it all explodes from this rotund pre-teen like a discourteous collapsing star.

Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh, Coffee & KareemEd Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh, Coffee & Kareem

Like a few trailblazers before him (Chris Tucker, Danny McBride) he finds a way, somehow, to be simultaneously foul and likable. This is a talent that can not be learned, one must be born with it. Naturally, Coffee and Kareem catches some lightning in a bottle, as Gardenhigh is on the verge of adolescence. I’m willing to bet, however, that if he plays his cards right, he’ll have a long comedy career ahead of him. (And his parents should either be showered with reward for letting him make this film or sent to prison. I can’t decide which.)

So, the story. I dunno, it’s pretty dumb. Basically there’s a drug-thug on the loose and Kareem thinks he can hire him to “take out” Coffee. He doesn’t like the idea of his mother dating a white police officer; it’s bad for his rep. But this ensnares the duo in a complex conspiracy with tendrils throughout the Detroit PD. By the end there are shoot-outs and explosions.

Betty Gilpin is hilarious as the top cop that brutalizes Coffee with a barrage of dissbombs and David Alan Grier is the avuncular captain with a soft spot for Coffee, even if he does agree that he’s something of a wuss. (Note: Gilpin’s character does not use any words as mild as “wuss.”)

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Once the action begins there’s a lot of shouting, cursing, chasing, racing, and a high degree of comic violence. There’s a bit where one of Gilpin’s goons (oops, I guess I just spoiled that she’s a baddie, oh well) explodes into a thousand pieces from a grenade. She picks up his head and yells at it. It’s disgusting, but unhinged and, I dunno, somehow it made me laugh. Maybe I’m a terrible person?

There’s also preposterous situational comedy, like the knucklehead henchmen practicing their “see you in Hell” catchphrases, or pausing to compliment Vanessa’s left-behind cornbread. These and other reality-shattering dumb moments are quite endearing. There are also some diamond-grade high energy zingers in there, like Kareem, in the middle of a chase, screaming at Coffee “you can’t reason with a mad black woman! There’s like six Tyler Perry movies about that!” That may not read like a laugh riot, but when Terrence Little Gardenhigh says it, it works. (As do throwaways from Ed Helms like “I would do anything to meet John Oates.”)

This movie is extremely un-woke, and for some this sort of intentionally offensive comedy just isn’t their thing. No arguing that. (Though Taraji P. Henson is granted moment to yell at everyone to please stop talking about their penises.) But if that sort of thing isn’t a dealbreaker, and since no one knows what you are streaming on Netflix, Coffee and Kareem might be your blend. Personally, I did enjoy it, but had trouble making it to the bottom of the cup.

TV Guide Rating: 3.5/5

Coffee and Kareem is now on Netflix.

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