Nothing brings people together like coffee, just ask the billionaire who owns Starbucks. However, the lightweight romantic comedy "Black Coffee" by writer/director Mark Harris lacks the punch of a double mocha Venti anything.
Robert (Darrin Dewitt Henson) is a house painter who starts the day by leaving his girlfriend Mita (Erica Hubbard) money on the counter in an almost creepy allowance/payment for services kind of way. No sooner than he gets into work than he's fired by his one time friend, Nate (Josh Ventura), the new owner of the business founded by Robert's father. As if the day couldn't get better, Mita dumps him as soon as he gets home.
Instead of falling into the arms of alcohol, self-pity, or the nearest firearm, Robert helps out his cousin Julian (Christian Keys) by delivering coffee to the gorgeous young lawyer Morgan (Gabrielle Dennis) and sparks fly...and Robert literally tells her that. In addition to looks and brains, Morgan comes with manipulative baggage in the form of ex Hill (Lamman Rucker) who won't give up without a fight. Before long, Robert is doing what he can to keep her, become worthy of her, and defeat the forces of evil...uh I mean Hill.
"Black Coffee" is far too watered down in obvious, heavy handed messages despite quality acting. The dialogue is too sappy and unbelievable at times to make you believe in the romance or comedy in this rom-com. There's little to no subtlety as the two romantic leads spend a few minutes basically saying "What do you want?
to each other. The film has an opening title card credited to Anonymous that says "The male and the female should be of one mind in doing the work of God." That sort of bad omen almost prepares you for when Henson speaks some nonsense about if you love something, set it free. Trust me, when a guy meets a girl who looks like Dennis, he's not thinking of setting her free. He's likely trying to get a law passed that she can never divorce him. There's not enough edge to his character to root for the way that you should, which is a shame, because he has that likable quality that makes you want to get behind him no matter what role he plays. I mean, he even made "Baggage Claim" watchable.
Hubbard is sexy and funny as the insufferable Mita. It's almost like she set out to steal scenes no matter how bad the dialogue was around her. The jewel in the film is Gabrielle Dennis as Morgan. Although her character isn't allowed to truly breathe and show how aggressive and determined she can be as a lawyer, her part as love interest and intelligent buppie goes a long way in keeping the movie afloat.
"Black Coffee" shows a lot of promise and to its credit hits all the right rom-com notes, but gets bogged down in being too PG with stifled, one dimensional characters who are forced to carry messages of self-empowerment and entrepreneurship. You can be righteous, smart and virtuous while being funny, edgy and even emotional now and then. Hopefully, Harris keeps that in mind during his next cup of Java.
"Black Coffee" Running time: 95 minutes. Rated PG. In limited release and DVD