Even Ed Helms might cringe if the coarse, predictably dumb and absurdly violent Netflix action comedy “Coffee & Kareem” gives him some sort of comeback.
Then again, forcing him, Taraji P. Henson and the rest of the cast to repeat themselves, making fresh versions of this repellent farce, might be the perfect punishment that fits the crime.
Because that’s what this ugly, irritating, blood-spattered wallow is. It’s not supposed to be for kids, but pairing up Ed with an over-the-top foul-mouthed tween (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) suggests it is.
Backhanded slaps at Detroit, dirty cops, idiotically-indulgent single-mom parenting, a statement on “the death of childhood, as we know it?” That’s all pretty much out in the open.
There are a couple of laughs, generally not from the leads. And the gory mayhem, from “accidental” executions at the end of a torture session to what a grenade does to a human body, is played for giggles, too.
I had to double-check the credits. Screenwriting newcomer Shane Mack did it, not ultra-violent action comedy specialist Shane Black (“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”). The guy who directed “Stuber” was behind the camera. Yeah, that’s obvious.
But Problem One is young Mr. Gardenhigh (of TV’s “Henry Danger” and “Danger Force”), more specifically his character. If there has ever been a more charmless, grating, obnoxious “hero” at the center of an action comedy, I can’t think of him.
I can’t quote Kareem, because every word out of his mouth is raw-dog ugly, every thought is fifth grade sexual (he raps an R-rated come-on to his teacher for his class poetry assignment). He blackmails hall monitors and throws threats around like a streetwise gang banger, when in truth he’s just a spoiled mama’s boy.
His mom (Henson) shows no sign of ever so much as trying to curb his behavior. She’s a nurse, dating a cop named Coffee (Helms), and tries to throw the two of them together to bond.
The plump, dreadlocked punk uses that as an excuse to hire a murderous drug dealer (RonReaco Lee) who just escaped from the cops to kill his mom’s cop boyfriend.
He’ll pay for the his eith his pocket change.
I guess it’s funny that, you know, the cop who let Orlando (Lee) escape was Officer Coffee, who has been demoted and bullied by the TV-friendly detective (Betty Gilpin) who caught the guy. Of at least it’s SUPPOSED to be funny.
That near-hiring of a hitman goes wrong, a dirty cop is murdered and Coffee & Kareem are on the run, trying to prevent the bad guys from silencing them or getting to Kareem’s mom, trying to dodge the law (David Alan Grier has the thankless/laughless job of playing Coffee’s boss) which assumes Coffee is the cop killer, and a child kidnapper.
Yes, pedophilia accusations from the kid are a running gag here.
Helms plays another variation on his grinning nebbish, here, a loser who describes himself to Kareem as “like a bruised fruit — a little blemished, but still delicious.”
If Krass Kareem could stop screaming profanities to hear that, he’d have certainly made much of the word “fruit.”
Because it’s that kind of comedy, “Bad Lieutenant” jokes, killers-in-training cracking up about “practicing my lines for when I’m fixin’ to kill somebody,” “child soldier– brainwashing” gags.
Political correctness is gone before the opening credits are over. And it’s not as though some of this might have worked, but everybody in it is just maddening to spend time with.
Henson can blow a fuse with the best of them, and having her kid call her “six Halle Berry movies mad” at them is kind of amusing. Her telling the trying-to-be-hip-to-the-Black-experience Coffee to “Stop watching BET” is almost funny. But there’s no getting around that she’s playing a shrill, parenthood-challenged stereotype.
Helms is mostly a walking sight gag, a punching bag here. And as for the kid, I’m in agreement with the cop who, on meeting Kareem, suggests a “six hundred week abortion” is in order.
But Gilpin, star of “The Hunt,” playing a short-tempered tyrant, gets every truly funny line and makes every line-reading sing. She’s not just fighting the cocaine trade, she tells a TV reporter, she’s “protecting the tiny nostrils of Detroit.”
Her instructions to her cops before a raid are “Let’s keep this quiet. Don’t SHOOT anybody. We don’t want this s— on Youtube!”
She empties out a strip club (where Coffee has taken Kareem) with a shout, “Go HOME. WORK on your MARRIAGES!”
I could see a “funny mean cop” series built out of her and this character.
She’s the redeeming quality of “Coffee & Kareem,” the sugar that masks (a teensy bit) how distasteful the whole affair is.
But an old rule of movie reviewing holds truer than ever with this one. Never expect anything out of a film with an awful pun as its title.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, bloody violence, sex, profanity and drugs
Cast: Ed Helms, Terrence Little Gardenhigh, Taraji P. Henson, Betty Gilpin, RonReaco Lee and David Alan Grier.
Credits: Directed by Michael Douse, script by Shane Mack. A Netflix Original.
Running time: 1:28