From “Superbad” to “Kick-Ass” to last year’s “Good Boys,” I’ve been a fan of many an R-rated comedy featuring kids and teenagers who swear like truck drivers and cops at a poker game hosted by Marines and construction workers.
But there has to be more than the initial shock value of cherub-faced “innocents” riffing like 1980s Eddie Murphy. You know, little things such as character and plot development. If we don’t care about what happens to the little BLEEPS who are saying BLEEP this and BLEEP that and BLEEP you, the gimmick quickly wears off.
In the abomination that is the Netflix original movie “Coffee & Kareem,” the insults and comebacks voiced by the adult characters and by a 12-year-old grow ever nastier, ever more explicit, ever more focused on one character inviting another character to perform some sexual act — and ever more off-putting.
It’s almost astonishing how unfunny this movie is, given the talents of primary cast members Ed Helms, Taraji P. Henson, Betty Gilpin and David Alan Grier. They’re all troupers and they dive headfirst into the material, but the dialogue they’re delivering and the situations they’re mired in make it impossible to wring even a smile, let alone a legitimate laugh, from the material.
Ed Helms is a hit-and-miss kind of personality whose performances can go either way (his Andy Bernard was my least favorite character by far on “The Office”) and he’s unpleasantly over the top here as Detroit police officer James Coffee, a bumbling, 15-year-veteran of the force who gets demoted to traffic duty on a nearly deserted intersection after his latest screw-up. Coffee has recently started dating Taraji P. Henson’s Vanessa, a single mother, and he charms her with lines such as, “Ma’am, I’m going to ask you to step away from your clothes and put your hands on your boyfriend.”
Terrence Little Gardenhigh plays Vanessa’s 12-year-old son Kareem, a heavy-set, unbelievably foul-mouthed kid who’s so horrified his mom is dating a cop, he tries to put a hit on the guy. Talk about a hilarious premise! No, I mean, I’d rather talk about a hilarious premise, because that sure ain’t one.
Through some clunky plot machinations, Coffee and Kareem wind up on the run, like mismatched partners in a buddy cop movie. (Plus, they’re Coffee & Kareem, like coffee and cream, get it?) Kareem barrages Coffee with a nonstop stream of profanity-laced insults, many of them involving oral sex and pedophilia. When Coffee tries to bond with Kareem by telling a story about his own childhood and becoming best friends with his stepfather, Kareem says that’s messed up: “There’s literally documentaries on Netflix about that!”
Because in the world of “Coffee & Kareem,” nobody ever bypasses the opportunity to make a strained joke about incest or rape.
Betty Gilpin contributes to the tsunami of obscenities and cheap jokes with a manic performance as a star cop colleague of Coffee’s makes one major bust after another and loves firing her weapon in just about any circumstance, e.g., when she shoots up the ceiling at a strip club to clear out the joint and exclaims, “Go home and work on your marriages!” (Okay, that’s not a bad line. There are a handful of decent jokes sprinkled among the garbage.)
As Coffee and Kareem get mixed up with all sorts of nefarious characters, director Michael Dowse reels off one slapstick-violent action sequence after another. This is the kind of movie where you just know we’re going to get a fight scene in which somebody’s head is plunged into a toilet. There’s a halfhearted twist involving some dirty cops, and an obligatory showdown on the docks, in which American drug dealers meet up with French-Canadian buyers, which gives one of the Americans the opportunity to try to fake a French accent, because that’s really original comedy.
Meanwhile, various characters take turns calling each other “bitch” and the range of humor expands to extended exchanges about testicles and child molestation. The brutal violence in “Coffee and Kareem” is played for laughs, as are the cliché plot points and certain shots, e.g., the badly wounded hero emerging from a fiery building against all odds. Director Michael Dowse and screenwriter Shane Mack were clearly going for a broad and bloody spoof — kind of a gritty, Detroit version of the “Kingsman” movies — but having a kid fill the air with profanities and staging set pieces where someone’s always getting shot or blown up by a grenade or hit over the head with a toilet tank isn’t nearly enough to make for an actual movie.
“Coffee & Kareem” is DOA.