By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
It's rather astonishing that 20 years after Cheech and Chong went lookin' for Dave, here comes Half Baked, a pot comedy that wears its lone joke like someone else's ill-fitting tie-dyed T-shirt. In 1998, they're still making marijuana movies? It seems so...well, reactionary, so nostalgic, so absolutely silly. No, coming a year after Trainspotting poured audiences into a syringe, drowned them in liquid cement, and flushed them down the toilet in search of lost vials, Half Baked feels absolutely naive.
It offers nothing but rehashings of stale smoke jokes told a million times, with junior-high delivery. (But, hey--pot sort of screws with your memory, so you may not know the difference.) Example: "Marijuana leads to other stuff, mostly junk food." Being stoned just ain't supposed to be this boring...then again, it does make you sleepy.
Too bad: Half Baked begins promisingly enough. During the opening credits, four teenage boys smoke their first joint behind a convenience store; as they light up, Dave Chappelle (the stand-up comic who co-wrote this expanded sketch) provides a little Wonder Years narration, explaining that "you never forget the first time." As the pot takes effect, the boys begin appearing in slow-motion, even as the world around them moves at full speed; they become buzzed blurs, wolfing down candy bars the size of small cars and swimming in wading-pool-sized Big Gulps.
Flash forward 11 years later, when Kenny (Harland Williams), Scarface (Guillermo Diaz), Thurgood (Chappelle), and Brian (Saturday Night Live's Jim Breuer) share a New York City apartment with their favorite bong, a monstrosity they've named Billy Bong Thornton. Kenny's a kindergarten teacher, Scarface flips burgers, Thurgood is a janitor at a pharmaceutical company, and Brian works at a used-record store. But trouble ensues when, during a post-smoke munchie raid, Kenny feeds sweets to a diabetic police horse and kills the beast; he's thrown into jail, and his buddies turn to pot-selling to raise the million-dollar bail. "We're not drug dealers," Thurgood cautions, "we're fund-raisers."
That's pretty much it by way of plot; the rest of the movie, all was-this-really-only-75-minutes? of it, is filled with throwaway asides, cameos from people far more famous than something as incidental as Half Baked should allow. Willie Nelson makes an appearance as the You Shoulda Been There Smoker, telling Chappelle, "I remember when a dime bag actually cost a dime"; Snoop Doggy Dogg, as the Scavenger Smoker, slinks by; Jon Stewart pops up as the Enhancement Smoker, the guy who thinks everything's cooler on weeeeed. Bob Saget gets the movie's sole Big Laugh as America's funniest coke addict.
The problem is, Chappelle and director Tamra Davis (the genius behind Billy Madison, a movie so stupid it should have been subtitled) can't decide whether to light up or get off the pipe; they force Chappelle to choose between marijuana and Mary Jane (Rachel True), the daughter of a pot dealer. Mary Jane (get it?) acts as the film's conscience, and she only gets in the way; she's a bring-down, a straight man preaching the evils of marijuana in the middle of a movie featuring a talking joint. Chappelle wants to have it both ways: He wants to make the ultimate doper movie, but he also needs an out lest someone accuse him of going too far.
In the end, these guys are all parodies of potheads anyway: Breuer's nothing more than a tie-dyed T-shirt and half-mast eyelids, slurring his words till they become a single vowel; Diaz offers little more than a string of yo-yo-yos while giving everyone the thousand-yard stare. Chappelle's all slapstick and delivery, a stand-up comic doing shtick instead of an actor playing a role. He plays Thurgood like a guy who's never had a toke in his life.
In the end, Half Baked isn't a stoner movie at all; it's a loving, silly ode to the '70s, kitsch without the kick. When Tommy Chong and The Mod Squad's Clarence Williams III show up, it's not for laughs but for knowing grins--nostalgia value and nothing more.
Directed by Tamra Davis. Written by Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan. Starring Dave Chappelle, Guillermo Diaz, Jim Breuer, and Harland Williams. Now playing.
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