You've seen "Caffeine" before. It's one of those a-day-in-the-life-of-a-workplace ensemble comedies, the kind packed with multiple storylines and quirky characters. "Car Wash," "Clerks," "Empire Records," "Waiting." That sort of thing. Now comes "Caffeine," which tells of a day in the life of a London coffeehouse. As the saying goes, it's more of the same, only less so.
As the day opens at the Black Cat Café, manager Rachel (Marsha Thomason) discovers her boyfriend/café cook Charlie (Callum Blue) cheated on her the night before - with twins. He's tossed out, leaving gay waiter Tom (Mark Pellegrino) to fill the chef duties. Meanwhile, waiter/aspiring writer Dylan (Breckin Meyer) waits impatiently for a call from his agent, and sassy waitress Vanessa (Mena Suvari) has brought her crazy grandmother (Roz Witt) in for the day.
And right away we notice something desperate with the proceedings. Here is a screenplay lacking confidence in its core characters and their ability to deliver the comedy, and so it brings in a ringer: insane old lady. Writer Dean Craig does too little with the behind-the-scenes madness that might otherwise ensue from all the chaos (indeed, aside from the set-up and a few final scenes, there's barely any attention paid to the employees), so he keeps the nutty grandma around, ending multiple scenes by having her yell nonsense or accuse other characters of being perverts.
Oh, there are indeed other characters. "Caffeine" is all about the customers, not the staff. There's the former porn star and her jealous boyfriend; the fiancée who discovers her groom-to-be is a cross-dresser; the shy woman (a pre-"Grey's Anatomy" Katherine Heigl) on a blind date with a total jerk; and the two young slackers (one of whom - played by Andrew Lee Potts in the film's only successfully funny role - is the shy woman's ex). Their stories will intertwine as the slacker hits on the porn star or the shy woman offers ladies' room advice to the fiancée, but for the most part, they're fairly solitary. (Unrelated to any of this is a cranky customer, because every entry in this genre must have a cranky customer.)
The problem is, nobody here does anything that's funny, or interesting, or shocking. There's plenty of dirty talk in an attempt to reach the raunchy vibe of "Clerks" and its ilk, but it's never as clever or as daring as it wants to be. Director John Cosgrove tries to amplify the naughtiness by dropping in fantasy visuals - for example, the fiancée envisions her man dressed in bra and panties inside the café. Again, it's more desperation, a way of trying too hard to stretch laughs out of material when the characters can't prove it naturally.
The final few scenes involve a visit from the owner of an upscale restaurant; he is here to interview Rachel for a key position away from the Black Cat. Suddenly, we get too-late suspense (will Rachel leave the café?), capped with a lengthy speech from Charlie about how Rachel is a great boss and a great person, but oh, how he wishes she wouldn't leave, and we're suddenly reminded, oh, yeah, this is a movie about the employees of a coffeehouse. Where has this movie been, all that time we spent with crazy grandmothers and sexed up slackers?
Of course, once we return to this corner of the movie, we realize we weren't missing much. This is the same tired plot thread about a haggard but honorable main character getting offered a chance at a better job, but that would mean giving up all those goofy folks we've come to love, etc., etc., and so on. If we had come to care about Rachel and her ragtag staff, we'd forgive such cliché. But the movie spends so little time with them, and does so little when we do get to see them, that this climax comes off as the sloppy bit of cop-out writing it really is.
Speaking of cliché: The closing credits feature a cast singalong. Really? After all this hipster attitude, you're going to toss us a Farrelly Brothers-style credits? Sure. Fine.
Curiously, the film is set in London yet casts a handful of Americans, with varied results. Pellegrino and Heigl do well with their fake accents; Suvari, not so much. Meyer, for reasons unknown, doesn't even try, as his Dylan is a Yank. Why not cast more Brits in these roles? Not that you need to match an actor's nationality with a character's, but at times (namely, whenever Suvari speaks), the falseness is distracting.
Not that authentic accents would help too much. "Caffeine" is a quirky character comedy where quirky doesn't equal comedy. With all those stale scenes coming and going, it's the movie equivalent of lukewarm coffee and day-old cake. I think I'll send this one back.
Video & Audio
Considering the low budget appeal of the film, the anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is more impressive than expected; there's some light grain, but it fits with the movie's overall look. The soundtrack is provided in Dolby 5.1 and Dolby stereo, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
A thirteen minute behind-the-scenes featurette mixes typical cast interviews with more entertaining topics, including a discussion on British slang terminology.
A blooper reel (7:33) runs on far too long, as does a collection of bland deleted scenes (5:50)
A set of previews, including the "Caffeine" trailer, rounds out the set.
"Caffeine" tries to match the quirky charms of the movies that obviously inspired it, but the magic never happens. Skip It.