Film Review: Black Coffee

Set in a weirdly sterile and unconvincing yuppie utopia, this would-be serious study of heterosexual commingling has an empty, synthetic quality from its very first scenes.

In the romantic roundelay that is Mark Harris' Black Coffee, Robert (Darrin Dewitt Henson) has not only just broken up with his ditsy, acquisitive girlfriend Mita (Erica Hubbard), but has also been fired from his job at a painting company started by his father, which is now owned by Nate (Josh Ventura). It also turns out that Mita and Nate have been having an affair. The shell-shocked Robert gets a delivery job with his cousin and bestie, Julian (Christian Keyes), who has a disconcertingly thriving coffee business. One of Julian's clients is a smart attorney, Morgan (Gabrielle Dennis), to whom Robert is immediately drawn. They begin a hesitant courtship, and we learn that Morgan has a jerk of an ex-husband, Hill (Lamman Rucker), who repeatedly still tries to make her life hell through his manipulative ways. However, in the glossy, buppie world dreamt up by Harris, love rules the day and every one of these characters winds up happily ensconced in the arms of their true soul mate.

This endless gabfest needed to be a lot pithier and wittier to overcome its strained plotting, erratic handling and overall predictability. Harris is obviously enamored of his own words, so the characters in Black Coffee jaw on and on for eternities over drinks and meals, without really saying all that much that is original or compelling. Man-woman relationships are delved into with a near-obscene daytime-TV chat-show gusto and the air is thick with eye-glazing platitudes like "If you love someone, set them free" and "Whatever is meant to be will be."

While it's nice to see so many characters so full of self-determination and career-building earnestness, the movie is rife with clumsy improbabilities like having Julian stand outside his apartment building, hawking that supposedly irresistible java. There's some emphasis on religion, as when Morgan asks Robert if he is a man of God, which might account for the total lack of anything resembling a boudoir moment here. A plethora of cheap shots are aimed at Mita, who is a regular Miss Malaprop of idiotically made-up words, while a certain chauvinism appears to be afoot when the reprehensible HIll is granted his own ecstatic romantic arc in an interminable, dippy love montage set to music that throws the entire film out of whack at the midway point.

The uniformly attractive cast are in there at all times, valiantly pitching away, but are mostly sunk by Harris' thuddingly banal notions. Dennis' sharp intelligence manages to occasionally gleam through all the glib mediocrity. The funniest line in the film isn't really all that funny and occurs when Morgan asks Robert, "How do I know you're not a serial killer?" and he responds, "Because I'm black."