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Film Review: Coffee & Kareem

6 April 20 words: Katie Green

Netflix’s latest comedy sees the unexpected duo of mediocre police officer James Coffee (Ed Helms) and feisty Kareem Manning (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) as they take us all on a joy ride as they run away from the typical film baddies…

Director: Michael Dowse
Starring: Betty Gilpin, Taraji P. Henson, Ed Helms
Running time: 88 minutes

Coffee & Kareem begins with young Kareem Manning making his way to the school bus. Shortly after, we meet James Coffee, who we presume is raiding Kareem’s house, leaving us to think it’s just a police officer doing his job; but this isn’t quite the case. It’s apparent in this film James Coffee isn’t your usual police officer. He may be “dedicated” to the job, this doesn’t necessarily mean he is good at it.

The real reason to bombard this house is to embark on his secret relationship with Kareem’s mother Vanessa, played by Hidden Figures’ Taraji P. Henson. To no surprise at all, Kareem eventually finds out about the relationship, leading to a lot of unnecessary drama and a budding friendship you might predict if you are familiar with the plots of certain similar films.

Humour is definitely at the centre of this film, making it a comedy through and through. Crude remarks are used to make its taboo subjects seem more lighthearted, and in our current climate, laughter is something we all need to lift our spirits. For instance, when Coffee has an “adult” conversation with his beloved girlfriend, the phrase “Do you want to grind the coffee beans?” makes it clear which of the two is the mature one in the relationship. However, this humour makes Coffee a more likeable character to watch as without this humour, he would frankly be quite boring. 

With a predictable storyline and time-worn jokes, it’s not one of Netflix’s better choices

We can’t forget Coffee’s partner in crime, Kareem, who is a more amusing character with his sass and pure wit that is consistent throughout the whole movie. Scenes where the young boy is trying to act beyond his young age -including when Kareem makes a deal with Coffee as they go on a joy ride together - makes his character even funnier to watch.

However, a character that doesn’t receive a lot of screen time but is the unprecedented hero is Kareem’s mother, Vanessa. Not only is she Coffee’s grown-up other half, she is also a strong-willed single mother that would do anything for her child. It’s perceived Coffee and Kareem need to protect poor old Vanessa, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This empowered woman can easily fend for herself as she not only defeats the baddies but does it flawlessly. 

Within the first thirty minutes of this film, jokes about race are consistently made, which are initially funny, but the repetition of this theme starts to become overused. Not only this, but the plot follows a premise that has already been done in other films such as 2015’s Hot Pursuit, starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s these sorts of scenarios that make the storyline predictable and less satisfying to watch as we have already seen it be done time and time again.

With its wit and crude remarks, Coffee & Kareem works as a comedy. However, with a predictable storyline and time-worn jokes, it’s perhaps not one of Netflix’s better choices. 

Did you know? Michael Dowse also directed 2019’s Stuber, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista.

Coffee & Kareem is available on Netflix now

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