Is Helms playing anything outside of his comfort zone here? Nope. He’s right at home, playing the type of character you’d expect him to. Have we seen abrasive, cussing tweens accuse adults of wanting to molest them before? Sure have. 2008’s Role Models springs to mind, first and foremost. But just because Coffee & Kareem has a few “stitched together” elements, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work overall. It’s smartly short, packing in a very simple story that’s filled with some pretty good jokes.
Coffee & Kareem Gallery
Helms plays Detroit cop/Hall & Oates fan James Coffee. Coffee’s dating a single working mom (Taraji P. Henson) whose son, Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), hates his possible future stepdad so much that he makes a play to pay a local gangster to beat him up. Gardenhigh is a great find. This flick has super raunchy dialogue so it was imperative to find a child actor who can perfectly play Kareem and find that balance between annoying and funny. Without a good kid in the part, you run a serious risk of pushing the audience away from the (albeit, small) heart of the story.
Helms, while playing to the familiar, is still able to shine in key moments. One particular interrogation scene, midway through the film, springs to mind, as Coffee attempts to take advice from Kareem about how to intimidate others. Again, the movie doesn’t offer up anything particularly new, but it does have some gems buried within.
The small supporting cast — Betty Gilpin, RonReaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and David Alan Grier — also help liven up the tropes. As Coffee’s workplace “alpha” nemesis, Gilpin gets to stretch her comedic prowess like crazy, delivering a whirlwind of cackles. And the film’s villains have a very fun rapport that almost reminds one of Elmore Leonard’s knack for writing super-smart dumbasses.After Coffee’s framed for murder and kidnapping, everyone involved gets targeted for death. Henson, for her part, was made for this type of part. As Kareem’s mom, Vanessa, she not only has to react with confounded fury when the man she’s seeing returns home with her son and there’s an Amber Alert out naming both of them, but also be able to elevate the “damsel in distress” cliche as a character who’s more than capable of carrying herself in a fight.
Coffee & Kareem may seem like a film where the title came first and then a story was spun out around the wordplay, but it actually works well and offers up some chaotic and crass comedy. Fortunately for all, Helms and Gardenhigh work really well together and their chemistry helps elevate the film above the semi-laughable logline.