Screen Media Films // 2007 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 20th, 2008
4:20 * 24/7 * 30 days
I'd only seen an episode or two of Last Comic Standing when I decided to give its fifth season a go from the beginning. I gave up on the show almost immediately when contestant Doug Benson was eliminated while a stay-at-home mom moonlighting as a comic and doing clichéd stay-at-home mom jokes vaulted into the next round. The show was clearly not up my alley.
I'd first encountered Benson's comedy five or six years earlier on BobandDavid.com, the online home of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, creators and stars of Mr. Show with Bob and David or, as I prefer to call it, The Greatest Sketch Comedy Show In the History of Everything (I know exactly what you fans of The State are thinking right now, by the way, and you're wrong...dead wrong). Benson wrote snide and hilarious capsule movie reviews for the site. His assessment of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, for instance: "Take that, Black History Month!"; or for V for Vendetta: "More like V for Verbose. Shut up and kill some people already."
Benson's stand-up is sly, wry, and observational. Weed (and its effects on perception) is a central motif. So much so that High Times magazine named Benson Stoner of the Year in 2006, and also declared him the number two pot comic in America. Considering he co-wrote and performs -- along with Arj Barker and Tony Camin -- the off-Broadway stand-up show, The Marijuana-Logues, it's difficult to imagine who landed the top spot and what he did to get there.
From producer Alex Campbell (American Casino) and director Michael Blieden (Zach Galifianakis: Love at the Purple Onion), Super High Me is based on a joke by Benson -- that watching Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me while stoned only gives you the munchies for McDonalds. Taking that jape as a launching point, the film offers us a glimpse into 60 days in the life of Benson. During the first 30 days, he refrains entirely from marijuana. During the second 30 days, he tokes up non-stop. Medical professionals test everything from his lung capacity to his sperm count to his memory, first sans pot and then when he's fully saturated in tetrahydrocannabinol. The results are startlingly inconclusive, but that's okay because along the way we get to watch Benson's stand-up and listen to his candid and hilarious observations about the role marijuana plays in his life and career (Benson's pot humor is of that rarest variety: intelligent).
As a documentary/stand-up comedy flick about pot, Super High Me is better than it has any right to be. It's at least twice as entertaining as Spurlock's anti-McDonald's rant, with none of the self-righteous after-taste. A large part of the movie's strength is how it contextualizes Benson's experiment within the social landscape of California's Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Benson tours legal dispensaries (where he purchases the marijuana for his experiment) and talks to advocates, doctors, and the sick. We're also given regular updates on the rapidly rising number of dispensaries in Los Angeles county and shown some of the nasty run-ins between medical marijuana practitioners and DEA agents (while California has legalized medical marijuana, it remains a violation of federal drug laws). Campbell and Blieden do a masterful job of weaving this political material into Benson's personal journey. And Benson proves the perfect tour guide of California's experiment in pot legalization: a guy who just wants to get stoned but is sardonically offput by the fervor of pro-legalization zealots. In one of the movie's most humorous sequences, Benson meets with cannabis activist Marc Emery (aka The Prince of Pot), whose scattershot, motor-mouthed rants about weed lead a stunned Benson to observe, "Holy crap. I feel like I just went through some marijuana gauntlet."
Since I watched a disc that flashed "Screening Copy Only" across the bottom of the screen every few minutes, I can't fully assess the video and audio quality of Screen Media Films' DVD release of Super High Me. I can say that the screener had a solid transfer sourced from high-definition video. Sharpness and clarity vary depending on the vagaries of natural lighting sources, but the image is crisp and clear for such a low-budget effort. If the final release version looks as good as the screener (and it's difficult to imagine it won't), you'll have little to complain about. Both the Dolby surround and stereo audio options reproduce the simple soundtrack with excellent clarity.
The disc comes with two cover art options: risqué and conservative. The former has a close-up of Benson with 15 joints in his mouth (a la the Super Size Me poster that depicts Morgan Spurlock with French fries stuffed in his face), while the latter has Benson in a cloud of presumably recently exhaled smoke. My copy didn't have the Spanish subtitles or deleted scenes advertised on the back of the case. It did include a trailer. I have no idea what the final release version will contain.
Though it bills itself as a parody, Super High Me is nearly as informative as it is funny. While it doesn't soapbox about legalization (and even treats those who do with a measure of disdain), its protagonist is such an affable stoner that it's difficult not to come away from the movie with an image of pot as a harmless indulgence. Still, Benson's summary observations to a crowd at a stand-up club at film's end say much about his laid-back realism: "I highly recommend you get stoned for 30 days in a row...provided you have a job where you do absolutely nothing all day long and then get up on stage in front of people at night and act like a buffoon."
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* I Love Movies Podcast