ABOVE PHOTO: Terrence Little Gardenhigh, left, and Ed Helms in a scene from “Coffee & Kareem.” (Justina Mintz/Netflix via AP)
By Lindsey Bahr
Your enjoyment of the new Netflix comedy “ Coffee & Kareem ” may depend on whether or not you find insanely vulgar middle schoolers funny. It’s not just cursing either. Oh no, this is a whole symphony of vulgarity that would make Seth Rogen blush.
“Coffee & Kareem” is one of those all-or-nothing comedies that has no boundaries or shame. It is intentionally dopey and looking to push all possible buttons. And nothing is off the table — race, sexual orientation, police brutality. So there is probably no middle ground for satisfaction. It’ll either work for you or it won’t (although you might find a few laughs emerge in spite of yourself). But nothing in the film even comes close to matching the cheekily clever title.
Ed Helms plays an awkward but well-intentioned Detroit cop named James Coffee who has convinced Taraji P. Henson’s Vanessa Manning to date him. Unfortunately for him, she has a 12-year-old son, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), who is less than excited to welcome a new man into their lives.
So it comes as a surprise when Kareem requests that Coffee pick him up from school one day. Coffee thinks that he’s just dropping him off at a friend’s house, but Kareem intends to hand-deliver him to a local drug lord (RonReaco Lee) who he believes he’s hired to take out his mom’s new beau. That plan goes awry, however, and they witness the murder of a corrupt officer, kicking off a series of increasingly absurd events in this irreverent, gory, homophobic and expletive-laden riff on the buddy cop genre.
Directed by Michael Dowse (“Stuber”) and written by Shane Mack (his first feature credit), “Coffee & Kareem” has a sweet premise at its core, with the two polar opposites tied together on a crazy quest, but its gets bogged down in its mission to shock and appall.
The 88-minute runtime starts to feel like an endless assembly line of uncouth jokes that end up having a numbing effect. One joke even includes a reference to Netflix documentaries, which definitely takes you out of the Netflix comedy you’re currently watching and might even make you want to abandon ship and head over to the documentary section to see what’s there.
The caliber of the cast is alluring, though, and may help hold interest longer than usual. Betty Gilpin (of “GLOW” and “The Hunt”) does wonders with her role as a take-no-prisoners cop, managing to elevate even the crassest of material and make it palatable and even funny sometimes. And Gardenhigh is an appealing presence too, if only he got more to do than swear.
It’s a strange time for a film like “Coffee & Kareem,” but its retro tone-deafness might actually be a welcome distraction for some, either to get enraged by or for some laughs in the privacy of your own home. Although there is one pretty inspired chase in a roundabout.
Sound like a fun time in the living room? Cue it up. Or maybe it sounds like something that might require some expensive virtual therapy sessions should someone too young or possessing a different sense of humor drop in at the wrong moment.
“Coffee & Kareem,” a Netflix release, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America but, trust us, it’s an R. Running time: 88 minutes. One star out of four.