Coffee and Kareem – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: when an urban black kid finds out his mother is sleeping with a white cop, he hatches a plan to have the cop beaten up. When he goes to the place where he is told he can find some people to do the job, he witnesses a murder, he is forced to go on the run with the same cop. As well as the drug gang, the two find out they are also up against corrupt cops.

Is it any good?: A film with the imaginative title of Coffee and Kareem was never likely to be a masterpiece in cinema, a fact reflected by its paltry five-point score on IMDB. That being said, the film does have some mirth-some moments and is not completely terrible. A hit and miss comedy.

Spoiler territory: police officer James Coffee (Ed Helms) is waiting outside of the house as twelve-year-old Kareem (Terence Little Gardenhigh) gets on to the school bus. Coffee gets out of the car and goes into the house. He is seeing Kareem’s mother, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson). As the two get amorous, Kareem glimpses them having sex.

At school, Kareem is telling his friend, Dominic (Chance Hurstfiled) about seeing his mother having sex with a policeman. A white policeman. Dominic tells him that his mum sleeping with a policeman could ruin his fledgeling rap career. Kareem agrees that’s why he paid another kid he knows twenty dollars so he could find Orlando Johnson (RonReaco Lee), a local gangster/rapper, who he plans to get to put a beatdown on Coffee.

Detective Watts (Betty Gilpin) is leading a team on a drug raid. They burst into a house where Johnson and some of his guys are stashing drugs. They storm the house and Johnson gets arrested. Coffee is taking him to be arraigned and he escapes. The escape is all over the news and Coffee is an embarrassment to the department.

Coffee, whilst making a formal complaint against Watts for bullying, is told by the captain, Hill (David Alan Grier), that he is, due to his mishap, now on traffic duty. Vanessa tells a colleague, Sharon (Arielle Tuliao), that Kareem has asked her to let James pick him up from school. Sharon says it will be a good chance for them to bond. Vanessa calls James and asks him to pick up Kareem. Coffee, against his better judgement, agrees to pick the boy up.

Coffee picks up Kareem who, even as he is getting into the car, proves to be problematic. Kareem precedes to ask inappropriate questions. He asks Coffee to take him to a friends house and directs him to a very sketchy neighbourhood. He tells him to wait in the car while he goes and speaks to his friend. Coffee waits.

In a closed gym, Kareem comes across Johnson and two of his crew, Dee (William ‘Big Sleep’ Stewart) and Rodney (Andrew Batchelor). Johnson is questioning a bloodied policeman, Steve Choi (Terry Chen), whose ear has been cut off by Dee. Johnson notices Kareem. He asks why is he there. Kareem tells him that he was told to ask for Rodney. Rodney tells his crew that he is trying to recruit younger people.

Kareem starts to tell Johnson that he wants a cop hurt. Coffee is oblivious of the goings-on in the gym. Choi starts to plead for his life and he also tells Johnson that he is going to get cut out of the deal. Dee, irritated by Choi’s whining, puts six bullets in him, killing him. Kareem’s phone, which was in his breast pocket, records the whole incident.

Outside, Coffee hears the gunshots and scrambles out of his car. He tries to sneak into the gym but Johnson and his crew hear him. Johnson and Coffee exchange words but Dee starts shooting and Kareem runs. He drops his phone as he and Coffee run. In the alley behind the gym, Coffee breaks a car window and opens the boot. He and Kareem hide in the boot.

The owner of the car, Steve (Garfield Wilson), returns to see his car window broken. He is furious. Johnson calls his boss and tells them that Coffee has seen him. From the boot of the car, Coffee call Watts and tells her he has found Johnson and that they killed Choi. They both start shouting in the boot, making Steve stop the car. They steal Steve’s car.

Johnson and his crew drive past Steve. They ask him if he has seen Coffee and Kareem. He tells them that they went in the other direction. They drive off and leave him stranded as well. Coffee and Kareem return to Kareem’s home to pick up Vanessa. She does not know that they are being pursued by Johnson’s crew. As Vanessa tries to get an explanation as to why Coffee is wanted for abducting Kareem, Kareem sees Johnson and his crew pulling up outside the house.

Vanessa decides to call the police as Coffee argues with her. Kareem shoots her with a taser gun and they all leave. Coffee takes them to a motel that he and Vanessa have used before. They handcuff a still unconscious Vanessa to the toilet. A report comes over the news saying that Coffee is wanted for the murder of Choi as well.

Kareem makes Coffee promise not to see his mum again and to take him to a strip club. They go to find Kareem’s phone. A reward for Coffee apprehension is seen by the motel night man who calls the police. Kareem explains to Coffee what it takes to not be bullied. Be aggressive and gay. Really gay.

They find the location of his phone and Coffee tells Kareem that he is going in alone. He is caught as soon as he enters the building. Kareem, ignoring instructions, comes in and distracts the gunman. Coffee knocks him out. They move through the location, Kareem distracting and Coffee taking out henchmen. They find Johnson but Kareem is distracted by some women going to a changing room.

Coffee goes after Johnson and they end up fighting. Kareem comes and points a gun at them both. Coffee gets up and takes the gun. They take Johnson to another location and Coffee interrogates him about his operation. He tells them that all cops are dirty and he does not trust them.

Kareem vouches for Coffee’s character. Johnson tells him that Watts is behind everything. There is a big deal going down that same night at the Old Steel Mill. Vanessa wakes up and reads a note left by Kareem. Rodney and Dee have found her location and plan to kill her. She sees them coming.

Coffee takes Kareem to a strip club where he plans to meet captain Hill. Hill turns up and Watts is with him. Watts kicks everyone out of the strip club. Hill tells Coffee he is dirty. Watts shoots Hill. She wants more money for herself. Kareem runs and Watts goes after him after wounding Coffee and dragging him outside.

Kareem steals a police car and knocks over Watts. He and Coffee drive off. Watts finds Johnson in the trunk of another police car and they both pursue Coffee and Kareem. Coffee and Kareem manage to evade Watts and Johnson. They race over to the motel to save Vanessa. Vanessa, it turns out, does not need saving. Though Coffee and Kareem do not know that, as when they get to the motel, she is not there.

Coffee and Kareem argue and Vanessa comes to find Coffee berating her son. She tells them that she took care of Rodney and Dee. Angry with Coffee, she takes Kareem and leaves. Watts men grab Vanessa and Kareem. Coffee realises he will have to save them.

Coffee records a message telling the world about Watts and where he is going. He goes to the Old Steel Mill, having made a deal with Watts to exchange himself for Vanessa and Kareem. He gets to the mill. Watts is waiting and tells him to get out of the car. After a little back and forth, Coffee gets out of the car. He has two grenades in his hands.

Watts thinks he is bluffing and that the grenades are fake. She shoots him in the shoulder causing him to drop the grenades. The grenades now live, Coffee kick the grenade at Watts and her crew. They all scatter except Dee who gets blown up. Watts screams because the grenade also destroys some of her drugs.

Kareem and Vanessa escape from Watts during the confusion. She sends Johnson after them. He catches up with them but cannot kill them as he admits he is not a killer and never has been. Watts tries to do her drug deal with the Canadian drug lord. As the deal is going down the Detroit police turn up. The drug lord and his crew think they are being set up and shots fly. Watts crew fire back.

Watts is determined to get her money. She starts shooting everybody, even her people. Coffee tells Vanessa and Kareem to run whilst he and Johnson shoot at Watts’ people. They escape and Watts comes after Coffee and Johnson. She shoots at them and Coffee tells Johnson to leave. He and Watts fight. He hits Watts with the case filled with money and she is distracted and grabs for the money.

One of the Canadian drug people lets off a grenade blowing up the warehouse. A half-burnt Coffee staggers out. A fireman finds Watts and brings her out. She sees Coffee and tries to kill him. Vanessa shoots her dead. Kareem agrees to let Coffee see his mother. The end.

Coffee and Kareem is a hit and miss comedy that it is hard to know who it is aimed at. With Henson, the biggest name but still not finding the same sort of vehicle for her talents that Empire has been and Helm best remembered for his turns in The Hangover series, both are stars of vehicles that have been adult in their content and approach.

That the youngest member of the cast, Gardenhigh, should be the one to spout the most profanity is kind of half the fun but the title lends itself to something that one might think more child friendly. It is not. Shane Mack’s script is heavy on profanity with any sort of subtlety completely absent.

The story exists simply so as Gardenhigh’s Kareem can deliver insults. The story really is not up to much and truthfully it does not matter. The acting is good from all and played straight with the comedy elements working well when it comes to the verbal exchanges.

The comedy works less well when it comes to the visual comedy except for Henson’s Vanessa beating down Stewarts’ Dee and Batchelor’s Rodney. Directed by Michael Dowse, the film whizzes comfortably through its eighty-eight-minute runtime and is a brain in neutral experience.

Scoring a lowly five on IMDB, Coffee and Kareem is not going to go down in the pantheons of comedic classics but – unless you are bothered by excessive profanity from a child – is an easy watch and has a good few chuckles.

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