Coffee & Kareem (2 stars)

Coffee & Kareem

A talented cast are squandered in this bad taste buddy comedy, starring Ed Helms and Taraji P Henson

'Sometimes a stepdad is a step in the right direction,' Officer Coffee tells his girlfriend's son hopefully, in between bouts of energetic antagonism. With a potty-mouthed kid the unabashed selling point, director Michael Dowse follows disappointing buddy comedy Stuber with more of the same.

Determined to scupper the relationship between his black healthcare worker mother (Taraji P Henson) and her new white cop boyfriend Coffee (Ed Helms), the permanently posturing pre-teen Kareem inexplicably seeks out the help of escaped felon Orlando (RonReaco Lee) to teach Coffee a lesson. In the process, the youngster witnesses Orlando and his heavies torturing and murdering a police officer. Sketchy plotting finds Coffee framed for the crime, amid claims he's kidnapped Kareem, and the mismatched pair wind up evading cops and criminals alike.

There's a thin dusting of decent lines but Coffee & Kareem leans too hard on its 'outrageous', predominantly poorly scripted humour, from debut screenwriter Shane Mack, with endless, sometimes graphic jokes about child abuse. It's one of those films that also thinks pretending to be aggressively gay is the mostly terrifying thing imaginable.

Racial tensions provide a potentially interesting but ultimately crudely explored angle, and it's crying out for more impactful doses of heart. Its 12-year-old aspiring rapper apes the attitude of a gangster and swears like a trooper, but we're not allowed to see much of the scared little kid behind the swagger. Though the climactic shootout is not without its agreeably ridiculous moments, the film gets messier as it wears on; in an unbelievably lazy move, an almost identical – and highly foreseeable – twist, involving a corrupt colleague, is borrowed from the director's previous picture.

Helms brings a smidgen of vulnerability to his incompetent cop, who's just trying to do the right thing, but Thunder Road this is most certainly not. Playing Coffee's nemesis Detective Watts, Betty Gilpin turns in a typically exuberant performance (see The Hunt for some of her most enjoyable recent work, and for a superior example of bad taste entertainment), while Henson gets a belated chance to kick some ass. However, it's unforgivable that this great actress is lumbered with the exasperated and imperilled love interest role. Any film that leaves its strongest player on the sidelines for most of the duration is just wasting everyone's time.

Available to watch now on Netflix.