Caffeine: Cosgroves Comedy, Starring Katherine Heigl and Mena Suvari

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A witless examination of relationships and day jobs, John Cosgroves would-be comedy Caffeine finds precious little humor in the issues of infidelity, heartbreak, family, and bodily functions.

Despite featuring a few recognizable mid-level acting talents, such as Katherine Heigl (TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Mena Suvari (“American Beauty”), the movie comes across as hopelessly amateurish and creatively destitute.

Set in London (though filmed in Santa Clarita, California), Caffeine charts a pivotal day at the Black Cat Caf, a slightly hip coffee house. Rachel (Marsha Thomason), the cafs manager, must contend not only with her boyfriend (and the cafs chef) Charlie (Callum Blue), who has just admitted to a recent threesome, but also the imminent arrival of Mr. Davies (Neil Dickson), who will interview her for a possible job at a impressive upscale restaurant. If Mr. Davies likes how she runs the Black Cat, the job is hers. But after firing Charlie in a fit of rage at his cheating, she must rally her disinterested wait staff (including Breckin Meyer and Mena Suvari) to do their best despite less-than-ideal circumstances.

Unfortunately, her hopes for a smooth-running day run aground thanks to a collection of odd customers, including a stoned young man (Andrew Lee Potts) trying to get over his breakup, an embarrassed groom-to-be (Mark Dymond) who must admit to his fiance (Jules Leyser) a kinky secret, and a painfully awkward blind date between mismatched individuals (Katherine Heigl and Daz Crawford).

Working with a fleet of characters in the hopes of offering a cross-section of contemporary urban living, Caffeine quickly illustrates that it has no feel for the interesting and entertaining minutiae of regular peoples existence. The problem is all the more embarrassingly noticeable since, no matter which of the many interlocking stories is explored, the film only finds clichs and aggressively unfunny scenarios to pursue.

Much of the humor stems from theoretically outrageous moments of over-the-top shenanigans. Tame sex jokes involving porn stars and weird fetishes are treated as shocking, taboo-busting material, when in fact the timidity of the execution underlines how pedestrian the gags are. Additionally, jokes concerning marijuana, penis length, expletive-spewing grandmas, gay panic, and bowel movements make up most of first-time feature screenwriter Dean Craigs narrative. While young boys may find this sort of humor naughty, the coarseness and obviousness of the gags will probably make it unappealing to anyone old enough to drink.

Stuck with such uninspired material, the actors do their best but mostly seem underutilized. Mena Suvaris cynical waitress character reveals none of the sexuality or sparkle she brought to her breakthrough role back in 1999s American Beauty. Breckin Meyer, who has made his name in gross-out comedies such as Road Trip, fails to convince as a waiter struggling to get his literary career going. Meyer lacks the sophistication to play a tortured artist, and he doesnt have the sort of charisma that his heartthrob character requires. Though praised for her role on TVs Greys Anatomy, Katherine Heigl is a rather bland love interest in Caffeine trying to play shy and unsure, she comes across as dull. As the manager of the caf, Thomason gets more screen time than her costars, but she receives little in terms of motivation or background. (Mostly, she yells at her wait staff and ignores the attempts of her boyfriend to get back together.)

The casts only bright spot as faint as it may be is Daz Crawford, who as Heigls sexist, moronic blind date gets a few chuckles by imbuing the character with undeniably thick-skulled stupidity.

Despite the films sophomoric humor, Caffeine would be less objectionable if its characters were appealing. But with the exception of Crawfords lovable ignoramus, the movies mostly 20-something individuals are largely sarcastic, whiny narcissists whose questioning about their place in the world holds little resonance because its dramatized so poorly. Cosgrove, best known for co-creating the long-running nonfiction television series Unsolved Mysteries, exhibits little sympathy or understanding for the milieu he covers in Caffeine. Also, he fails to establish the caf and its inhabitants as an inviting community, a respite from the demands of real life. (Most curiously, his decision to set the movie in London but film it in California simply feels lazy, a blatant stab at attaining a whiff of international sophistication in order to redeem the unimaginative, toilet-humor script.)

Though only running 88 minutes, Caffeine feels much, much longer. Ensemble pieces often suffer from their multiple plotlines–while some story threads immediately captivate, others fail to elicit much of a response. But in the case of Cosgroves moribund effort, none of the threads excite and many of them actually irritate. It may be titled Caffeine, but the film is simply sleep-inducing.

Credits

Running time: 88 minutes

Director: John Cosgrove
Production company: Steaming Hot Coffee, LLC
Executive Producers: David Peters, Terry Dunn Meurer, Laurence Malkin
Producers: John Cosgrove, Jo Levi Disante
Screenplay: Dean Craig
Cinematography: Shawn Maurer
Editor: Suzanne Hines
Production Design: Edward L. Rubin
Music: David Kitay

Cast

Vanessa (Mena Suvari)
Rachel (Marsha Thomason)
Laura (Katherine Heigl)
Mike (Andrew Lee Potts)
Danny (Mike Vogel)
Dylan (Breckin Meyer)
Steve (Daz Crawford)
Angela (Jules Leyser)
David (Mark Dymond)
Charlie (Callum Blue)
Mr. Davies (Neil Dickson)