We were warned. With promotional posters shamelessly mirroring those of classic cop movies like "48 Hrs." and "Beverly Hills Cop," Netflix threw up red flags aplenty indicating just how big a genre travesty its new film, "Coffee & Kareem," would be. If you make the unfortunate error of pressing play on the new Ed Helms vehicle, you will find it is much more than just the wanton rip-off we were promised — it is one of the most distasteful mainstream movies released in some time.
Helms plays James Coffee, a laughably incompetent Detroit cop who finds himself in the crosshairs of 12-year-old Kareem, his new girlfriend's son. Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh in his feature debut) fancies himself a stone-cold gangster, spewing obscenities left and right and earning detention after performing a vulgar rap in English class. Hoping to prove his street-hardened mettle and to rescue his mom, Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson), from dating a "pig," he arranges to have one of Detroit's most notorious criminals rough Coffee up and scare him off for good.
Things, of course, don't go quite according to plan, and Coffee and Kareem become the unlikeliest of teams in attempting to expose a pernicious, police-protected drug operation, all while evading the wrath of Detroit's seediest miscreants. Thus ensues an endless barrage of aggressively unfunny gags that tactlessly make light of race relations, police brutality, child sexual assault, abortion, homosexuality and a smattering of other subjects, apparently with the mere goal of being risqué. Mix this with a half-dozen moments copy-pasted from movies like "Die Hard" and "Point Break," and you've got what might already be the year's most offensive movie, in every sense of the word.
Apologists for "Coffee & Kareem" may argue its sense of humor, particularly involving racial stereotypes, attempts to address and wrestle with weighty material while keeping the film accessible and amusing. But first-time screenwriter Shane Mack's dialogue and characterization are so surface-level, so reliant on stereotyping even the main protagonists, that no intelligent viewer will gather anything positive from them.
Perhaps most infuriating are remarks by black characters who lament Vanessa's decision to date a white man "who doesn't have money," or when Coffee repeatedly insists he isn't racist because "my girlfriend is black." It's these little moments that not only make our leads completely unlikeable, but hamstring any supposed attempt to level the playing field between characters of different backgrounds and nationalities. When the titular duo inevitably end up appreciating each other despite their differences, it's maddeningly unearned.
Among a few redeeming factors are Michael Dowse's passable direction, though the handful of people who saw his film "Stuber" last year will find he's largely pulling from the same bag of tricks — no surprises or risk-taking here. The only performance of note is rising star Betty Gilpin ("The Hunt"), whose gleefully over-the-top delivery almost redeems even the most eye-rolling lines she's given. Otherwise, a mindless script and needlessly flippant approach to weighty subject matter makes "Coffee & Kareem" one of 2020's early disgraces. Its brain-frying power is available to stream directly into your living room. Lucky you.
John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.