Coffee & Kareem (2020): Netflix Original Review

"Foot rubs are my love language."

Comedies get a bad rap; most people won’t judge a drama that doesn’t make them cry, but if you tell them a movie will make them laugh and it doesn’t, they’re quick to cut it apart. When I watch comedies, I try to give a little bit of extra slack for that reason.

Not every drama is the same, and their goal in making me feel something is always achieved differently. Comedies are no different; how they get a laugh out of an audience can be done in a myriad of interesting ways. Yet, if a movie falls on its face, regardless of the methods it employs, reviewers will only use the same blanket term: “It just isn’t funny.” In my opinion, to count how many times a movie makes you laugh, or to attempt measuring the strength of each said laugh, is to miss the entire point. Comedies are not a separate art form; they’re movies, through and through, and should be praised, and criticized, as such.

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Coffee & Kareem is a Netflix original action, buddy-cop, adventure movie starring Ed Helms (James Coffee), Terrence Little Gardenhigh (Kareem Manning), and Taraji P. Henson (Vanessa Manning). The plot is a typical affair for a story of this genre: James Coffee, a bumbling white police officer in Detroit, is dating Vanessa, but is uncomfortable around her twelve-year-old son, Kareem. Kareem, immersed in his own idea of gangster culture, attempts to pay a recently released criminal to attack Coffee when he finds him and his mother having sex. But when his plan falls apart, it unleashes a chain of ridiculous events that force him and Coffee to bond, all the while fighting off wannabe gangbangers, corrupt police officers, and unsuspecting Detroit civilians.

The biggest highlight of Coffee & Kareem is Gardenhigh’s performance. I will admit, there’s something so charming about his line delivery, and his constant spew of unrelenting insults and false intimidation, that had me laughing quite a few times. This is also in part from the script, which isn’t amazing, but more than serviceable and packed with a lot of good lines. Watching Helms and Gardenhigh riff off each other in silly scenarios like shootouts, car chases, and strip clubs, is easily the most fun the movie can offer. But therein lies a problem: who is this movie for, really?

Gardenhigh is a child actor, and although I found most of his performance very entertaining, he’s a part of a very hard R-rated film. I think there’s a missed opportunity there for a cleverer story to get a slightly younger audience engaged without nonstop swearing, and a few moments of downright gruesome violence that doesn’t fit the tone at all. Most of the characters are forced into life-threatening situations, with extras or background characters being wiped out in a slew of bloodshed around them, yet they never really feel in danger. The movie wants to be lighthearted and funny but can’t really think of many original ways to do it with words. Instead, we get Kareem driving a cop car while Coffee fires a shotgun out the window at the bad guys, only to get clipped by a traffic sign.

Bottom Line

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Entertaining, but shallow, Coffee & Kareem is a fine, eighty-eight-minute romp to watch with some friends while you’re stuck at home. Some good dialogue, decent performances (with Gardenhigh standing out), and a very predictable plot make it a lukewarm addition to the endless stream of similar movies that have come before it.


Michael Timpert
Michael Timpert
Michael watches roughly five movies a week. He's partial to the horror genre and other films that make him miserable. When he isn't complaining about art he doesn't understand, he co-hosts a comedic podcast called Two For One. What he could possibly offer to an hour long audio program is still a mystery.

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