This edition of Movies to Watch After… recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of Coffee & Kareem as I recommend fans go back and learn some film history, become more well-rounded viewers, and enjoy likeminded works of the past, even if it’s the fairly recent past. As always, I try to point you in the easiest direction of where to find each of these highlighted titles.
Michael Dowse has quickly followed one buddy cop movie (last year’s Stuber) with another, this time pairing a white Detroit police officer (Ed Helms) with a black preteen boy (Nickelodeon star Terrence Little Gardenhigh) as the titular leads of Coffee & Kareem. The quickly forgettable and insubstantial comedy is a perfect Netflix offering at the moment because it’s distracting entertainment for common subscribers.
Reviews of Coffee & Kareem are primarily negative, general user ratings and audience scores aren’t much better, and honestly, there’s some easily offensive humor (most notably an attempt at gay panic parody) to be found in Shane Mack‘s screenplay. Yet this chart-placing new streaming release is what mainstream audiences who default to Netflix are getting for fresh original content. Watch it, then, sure, but chase it down with these picks:
The Hunt (2020)
The MVP of Coffee & Kareem is definitely young breakout Terrence Little Gardenhigh, who gets to swear up a storm in a way that’s far removed from his family-friendly role on the kid superhero show Henry Danger and now the spinoff Danger Force. Coming in close behind him, though, is the scene-stealing Betty Gilpin. She plays the hardened detective Watts, who turns out to be the movie’s villain, and she’s quite a treat.
Best known as a regular on the Netflix series GLOW, Gilpin is also the one major holdover from Dowse’s Stuber and shows up as support in a number of other 2019 and 2020 releases. Recently, though, she managed to rise up to lead status with the unnecessarily controversial, violently entertaining human-hunting thriller The Hunt, in which she similarly gets to be comedically blunt and badass in a kind of role we don’t often see filled by women.
Like The Hunt, this is another recent theatrical release that has quickly hit VOD as a result of cinemas shuttering, and like Coffee & Kareem, it’s now available on a popular subscription-based streaming service. Pixar’s Onward is definitely a different movie in terms of tone, but I couldn’t help but think about the animated fantasy film while watching the new Netflix comedy because it also features an uncool police offer dating the main character’s mom.
Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)
In what’s likely unintentional Netflix cross-promotion, Kareem tells Officer Coffee that the idea of a man being BFFs with a kid is “sick and fucked up” and that there are literally Netflix documentaries about that. The most obvious example of what the boy is referring to is Abducted in Plain Sight, a disturbing yet phenomenally popular film about a woman who’d been kidnapped by an inappropriately close family friend twice, at ages 12 and 14. Perhaps Casting JonBenet counts, too.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Before he directed Thor movies for Marvel, episodes of Star Wars TV series, or the Best Picture nominee Jojo Rabbit, for which he won an Oscar, Taika Waititi helmed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a New Zealand film about a young person of color (Julian Dennison) paired with and eventually bonding with an older white father figure (Sam Neill). And the former is a boy trying to seem harder than he is, swearing all the time and acting tough.
One of the best coming-of-age movies of all time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is primarily focused on the kid (Dennison gives a star-making performance), who gets in a lot of trouble with the authorities and is sent to live with foster parents, one of whom winds up leading the boy into the woods for a hunting trip that turns into a manhunt due to some misunderstandings. And yeah, there are some child molestation jokes in this one, too.
While Coffee & Kareem is rather dark in its humor but light in its efforts and just sort of cheap all around, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the most enriching movies of its kind in years with a more genuinely sweet story without sacrificing any of its honestly executed, character-driven comedy, much of which leans on the more mature side but still remains fairly teen-appropriate. The two leads also exhibit perfect chemistry as their relationship grows.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Another movie referenced onscreen by characters in Coffee & Kareem, more directly than Abducted in Plain Sight, is this drama from Werner Herzog. Inspired by the 1992 Abel Ferrara cult classic, simply titled Bad Lieutenant and starring Harvey Keitel as a rotten New York cop, this one follows Nicolas Cage in a similar role set in the Big Easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Kareem describes the premise and Coffee names the film, claiming that’s not real life.
Of course, Coffee & Kareem isn’t a very realistic movie, either. It’s got that sort of tame and natural tone at the beginning that gives way to ridiculous plotting and violence, a la Pineapple Express. Anyway, the reference combined with her corrupt cop role makes me wish someone woulda just made another Bad Lieutenant movie starring Gilpin in the title role. That also just sounds like a darkly comedic take on Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer. Yes, please?
Role Models (2008)
When it comes to movies starring young black kids swearing a lot, Role Models is the cream of the crop thanks to then-child actor Bobb-e J. Thompson, who’d become famous for the shtick. He co-stars in the comedy as Ronnie, a foul-mouthed preteen paired with Seann William Scott as part of a Big Brothers, Big Sisters type mentoring organization. Of course, the two dislike each other at the beginning but wind up bonding, albeit mostly over their shared love for boobs.
Role Models also stars Paul Rudd as a man serving as a “big” to Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s “little,” a LARP-loving teen who introduces his mentor and the other two main characters to the geeky pastime. Despite receiving positive reviews at the time, many of them highlighting Thompson’s scene-stealing performance, the movie is hardly recognized as anything of note today. But if you’re looking for more easy laughs with a crude sense of humor and a forgettable story, this will certainly do.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
There are too many little nods to classic movies in Coffee & Kareem to include them all on this list. The bit when Helms shoots his gun into the sky is obviously an homage to Point Break, but that’s not enough to garner a recommendation from me here. But having a police officer tied to a chair with his ear cut off is too specific a tribute to pass up. And since there’s a scene later in which a number of characters all point guns at each other, Reservoir Dogs is worthy of being highlighted.
Like anything else in a Quentin Tarantino movie, the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs was inspired by an earlier work: The Big Combo. However, while an ear is also involved in the cop-torturing scene in that 1955 film noir, the idea of amputating the body part seems to have been Tarantino’s own. It’s the moment that everyone was talking about when his debut feature came out and remains one of the film’s most iconic visuals, only ever copied with an understanding of blatant homage.
There are precedents for buddy cop movies about police paired with kids, most notably the 1993 Burt Reynolds vehicle Cop and a Half, which similarly involves the child being a witness to a murder. But I’m skipping over that dud and going with what might be the first example of a movie with such a premise, though it’s a drama. Like most stories of this sort, in contrast to the premise of Coffee & Kareem, Witness deals with a tough guy cop (Harrison Ford) and an innocent kid (Lukas Haas).
Another difference between Witness and Coffee & Kareem, besides the obvious stuff involving the Amish community, is that in the latter the policeman is dating the child’s mother from the start while the former has the detective falling in love with the child’s mother through the process of the story. But both movies deal with the murder of a police officer, whose death turns out to be tied to a corrupt narcotics officer as well as a corrupt police chief, putting the movie’s hero at risk of being killed next.
48 Hrs. (1982)
Speaking of the corrupt police chief, the equivalent of whom in Coffee & Kareem is a police captain (played by David Alan Grier), the guy’s name in the Netflix comedy is W. Hill. That’s undoubtedly a reference to Walter Hill, director of 48 Hrs., which is widely credited as the original buddy cop movie. It’s at least the most influential, particularly for its team-up of one black character (Eddie Murphy) and one white character (Nick Nolte) where only one of them is a cop.
In case the influence wasn’t clear enough on Coffee & Kareem, and in case you didn’t notice the captain’s name, the movie also got an alternate poster in the style of the classic one-sheet for 48 Hrs. There are also poster homages to Beverly Hills Cop and Die Hard. The former might make some sense because Eddie Murphy’s character in that movie hails from Detroit, but there’s not very much to the latter Bruce Willis action flick connecting it to Coffee & Kareem.
Paper Moon (1973) and The Bad News Bears (1976)
Finally, there are two Tatum O’Neal movies a few years apart that seem to be the strongest roots for Coffee & Kareem, especially taken in combination. First, Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon, for which the then-child actress won an Oscar, follows a smartass kid and a father figure (Ryan O’Neal) — he might even be her biological parent, but that’s unproven — on the road performing small-time cons. They’re criminals rather than one being an officer of the law, however.
Next is The Bad News Bears, in which a kid and her mother’s ex-boyfriend (Walter Matthau) reconnect, strain to get along, and ultimately bond when he coaches her on a little league baseball team. The classic underdog sports movie is also credited with kicking off the practice of having kids swear in movies for comedic effect, though it’s not the first movie to feature kids cursing. One warning: some of the bad language includes epithets that wouldn’t be included in a movie like this today.