- Katie Bell
Coffee & Kareem (2020)
Okay, Netflix. Are we really doing this? Am I really going to have to spend the foreseeable future, reviewing films which advertise their own streaming service? You're two for two, Netflix, and it's supremely annoying. I know that there's "literally documentaries on Netflix" about stuff, because I own Netflix, Netflix. Please stop advertising yourself through your own movies, Netflix. I cannot stress this enough.
Apart from one-liners advertising a certain streaming service, that will heretofore be known as "streaming-service-who-shall-not-be-named", Coffee & Kareem is about Police Officer Coffee (Ed Helms) and his girlfriend's son, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh). I thought that there would be a punny joke about their names at some point in the film, but alas, no. The pun remains in the title alone, and for that reason, I'm not sure how much credit it deserves.
Coffee is dating Kareem's mother, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson). Things have been going well for three months, but Coffee is yet to meet Kareem and is obviously feeling a little anxious about it. Five minutes in, we receive this information through exposition, and of course we also receive the expected response from Vanessa that Kareem's "just shy". Hard cut to Kareem who is skipping class in the toilet, and mouthing off about how much he hates Mum's new boyfriend: a white cop who he walked in on mid-coitus with his mother. Definitely not shy, but perhaps misunderstood? Anyway, obviously Mum tries to orchestrate the blossoming of their relationship, by asking Coffee to pick up Kareem from school, and thus begins the journey of this 2020 buddy cop film.
Thematically, this film appears to be roughly in line with a blaxploitation film (and the poster seems to emulate this to an extent as well). Much of this film looks at and comments on the systemic abuse of African-Americans and corruption within the police force. On multiple occasions, Coffee is reminded by other characters of the violence towards African-American people and the inherently racist practices of police officers. For example, when Coffee introduces Kareem to some of his cool police officer stuff, and pulls out a baton, Kareem points out that this instrument probably "tastes like the ass of the innocent black man". There are multiple occasions throughout the film when this theme is explicitly addressed. And yes, it definitely needs to be addressed. My preference is for more subtlety in the delivery of themes, but I also understand that this film isn't supposed to be subtle. Essentially, the concept of a young African American boy, rising up against corrupt cops with the help of a very incompetent police officer, is reminiscent of the blaxploitation films of yore, but that is likely the highest compliment I will pay this movie, as I don't have many other positives to contribute.
Whilst the themes around racism are incredibly important, I was disappointed in a lack of inclusivity and tact at other moments in this movie. At one point, Kareem is attempting to teach Coffee to stand up for himself. The fifth-grader is offering advice on what to do when someone is bullying you. He says: "There's really only two things you need to know: you need to be aggressive and gay. Really gay". That's a direct quote from the film. To be fair, Coffee's response is, "That's offensive, and really backward". However, this advice is elaborated on and later used. Sure, when Coffee acts "aggressive and gay", he of course makes lots of references to all of the things being consensual, rather than just telling the other guy to "suck his..." ...you get the picture. Although the reaction from the person on the receiving end, isn't disgust in homosexuality, his reaction is still discomfort. It troubles me that this even made it into a film in 2020. The purpose may not have been to offend, but I definitely wasn't comfortable watching this advice unfold. Surely, Kareem could have given the advice to aggressively cuss sexual stuff at people, without saying "Be gay. Really gay". But then, I'm no scriptwriter...
In terms of characterisation, Coffee is the kind of police officer who belongs in the Police Academy series. He's totally incompetent in every way. I have no idea how he's managed to be in the police force for fifteen years and remain on the street with multiple weapons in his control. The trouble though, is that he's not fully slapstick. He's portraying a character who is part Police Academy and part Stu from The Hangover. They are two very different forms of comedy, that don't fully come together in this film. Some of the jokes land, but a lot don't. Meanwhile, there are enormous problems with the character of Kareem as well, the first being his age. I watched this film once and realised there are issues with this, I have no idea what the writer/director was doing or how they didn't pick it up. Kareem is identified as a fifth-grader (whilst in a fifth-grade class), however he is also referred to as a teenager. He certainly looks like a teenager and talks like a teenager. If you figure out his age definitively, I'd love to know. Additionally, early on in the film, Kareem is looking to hire a hitman/bad guy to mess up Coffee and teach him a lesson. His mate (also a fifth-grader), texts him the address of Orlando's hide-out. Who's Orlando? A known drug dealer, who just that day escaped police capture whilst being transported to the station by Coffee. So, not even the police know where Orlando is hiding. However, some kid in the fifth grade, is able to track him down (apparently, one of Orlando's people is trying to recruit kids...so he distributed their hideout address somehow?). Finally, when Kareem sends his mate, Dom, a picture of Coffee's face, Dom texts back, "stache = registered sex offender". WHO WROTE THAT? It wasn't a fifth-grader. Long story short, the kids, who have drug-dealer connections, don't sound like kids at all.
Finally, I have no idea who the target audience is for this film. It's a buddy cop, involving an inept grown man who doesn't have kids, looking after someone else's child for an afternoon. There have been plenty of these films made before. Within the past six months alone, we've seen releases just like this, such as My Spy and Playing With Fire. However, the supreme difference between these films, and Coffee & Kareem is that the former are marketed at children or teenagers, whilst the latter is rated MA15+ and I'm not sure exactly who it is for. Aside from the classic pairing of an adult and a child, you also have some really fun bad guys, in Orlando and his crew, who would certainly appeal to younger audiences. Furthermore, you have punishments that younger people sometimes find to be humorous, like shoving someone's head down a toilet. It really didn't feel like a film that was made for adults to watch. However, there is also an exorbitant amount of swearing in this film; most of it coming from Kareem. I'm certainly not offended by it, I don't always have a squeaky clean mouth myself, however if you were playing a drinking game during Coffee & Kareem, you would have been legless about ten minutes in. Swearing is sometimes necessary in movies, for the purpose of believability. In this film it is excessive and largely unnecessary though. Sometimes it appears to be used for the purpose of comedy, other times it's just used because, why not? Kareem delivers profound lines, such as: "I'd eat anything to get the taste of your mum's p*ssy out of my mouth," "You f*ck my mum, I'm gonna f*ck your life" and even says the following in regards to a can of pepper spray, "What the f*ck is this? Your fleshlight?" But Kareem's definitely in the fifth grade, right? The thing is, these aren't even one-off climactic moments, these are just the lines that I could be bothered to write down. There are plenty more. Kareem could write a how-to guide on profanities.
You've probably gathered by now, I'm not a fan of this film. I'm a fan of the concept, but the execution was poor and the jokes aren't great. Recreated in the form of a PG13 film, or even a little closer to a film like Role Models, my recommendation might be completely different. Apart from the loose ties to blaxploitation, the one redeeming feature in my eyes, are all of the allusions to other police films. I caught onto a bit of Police Academy and Die Hard, however I'm certain that those aren't the only references included. If you like cop films, you might enjoy it more than me, my biggest problem is, I haven't watched enough police films to pick up on and enjoy all of these mid-movie references. So, it's a hard no from me.