Judge Bill Gibron thinks a better title for this film would have been Reefer Sadness.
A comedy about best buds!
Thurgood (David Chappelle, Undercover Brother, Chapelle's Show), Kenny (Harlan Williams, Rocket Man, Sorority Boys), Brian (Jim Breuer, Dick, Saturday Night Live), and Scarface (Guillermo Diaz, Undefeated, The Terminal) have been friends since childhood. Indeed, all four shared one of their most formative events together—they all smoked their first joint together. Now living and working together in NYC, our pals are still pot happy campers. Each one works a dead end job and spends their evenings happily toking away. When Kenny accidentally kills a police horse while on a munchie run, he is placed in jail and given an incredible bond of $1 million dollars. Trying to raise the 10% to cover his bail, the gang hit upon a cunning plan—they will sell the medicinal marijuana from the pharmaceutical lab where Thurgood works and make a fortune. But when they catch the attention of local drug dealer Samson, they realize that their amateur pusher status may be leading to a fate worse than prison. This Half Baked scheme may cost them their lives.
Half Baked has such a review-friendly title that it almost seems pointless to continue on with the criticism. Indeed, it's nice when the screenwriters—or the marketing minds—do the deciding for you. So don't be surprised when you hear this, since you've been warned from the appropriate moniker, but this is one marijuana movie that's more stems and seeds than fine, smooth smoke. Perhaps the studio should have been more forward and simply advertised this turkey as "from the director of the Britney Spears triumph, Crossroads!" It would have saved many a Mary Jane aficionado from wasting their weed buzz on a harsh, hash resin of a comedy.
Now, stoner comedy is a hard genre to get right. Even Cheech and Chong need hormonally challenged junior high teenagers to make their "Dave's not here" histrionics seem funny (that, or a couple dozen dime bags of what the duo were droning on about). Unless you understand getting toasted, or know the experience of tripping the bong fantastic, you just won't get your typical Thai stick epic. It's no wonder then that, since Mr. Marin went all Don Johnson on the duo, few have followed in the artists formerly known for Chronic doobie dragging footsteps. Those who've dared have learned the hard way that taking up the toke torch does not guarantee to make pot a pratfall premium.
Half Baked is no exception. Few will probably remember this—especially not with the red-hot Mr. Chappelle's mug taking up the main portion of the DVD cover art—but this film was meant as a post-SNL breakthrough role for Jim Breuer. Mr. B, another in a long line of famous forgotten Not Ready for Prime Time cast members—he's in that elite group of Melanie Hutsell, Gary Kroeger, and the entire 1980 company as being instantly unmemorable additions to the show—proves why he's not making remakes of old Hollywood hits like his fellow late night alumni, delivering every line like he's imitating something he heard on Big Bambu. He's upstaged so often by co-stars Harland Williams (did anyone ever think this dork was funny?) and indie actor Guillermo Diaz that you wonder why he showed up to work most days. You can tell he thinks he's nailing the brain-damaged dude speak, but when you've got nothing funny to say, saying it in a goofy manner is just embarrassing.
Of course, the movie really does revolve around Chappelle and his hopelessly romantic (and marijuana addicted) custodian named Thurgood. The comic even gets another role, that of consistently fried rapper Sir Smokes-a-lot. While his hip-hop head is far too over the top to be credible, Chappelle does make a nice, lovable lead. He can play both the sarcastic and sensitive with ease, and his scenes with Rachel True (as the "tee-hee" named Mary Jane Potman) ring with a nice romantic authenticity. But Half Baked is not interested in the real world, unless it can be used to jumpstart the plot along the way. Otherwise, this entire film is merely wish fulfillment for the glass pipe crowd.
The main reason why a film like Half Baked can't and won't work is that it's not brave enough. It knows that there is humor in herb, but because we live in a PC police state where the merest suggestion of marijuana as anything other than an evil gateway drug is fully frowned upon, it has to make everything dopey and daffy. As a result, we get random scenes of silliness that make no sense, a few moments of flat-out fantasy (after partaking of some particularly potent industrial smoke, the boys go floating across Manhattan, Superman style), and a lot of throwaway bits that don't add up to anything witty or fresh. Indeed, you could easily have substituted liquor for the weed being peddled in this film and it would make about as much sense logically, as it would in the lunacy department. There are about three actual laughs in the script and the tone takes a definite turn for the better when Mod Squad's Lincoln Hayes himself, Clarence Williams III, shows up as the horribly effete drug czar Samson.
But this is still not a good film, not even if your brain is as blanched as that of the characters in the film. The humor is neither observational nor satirical and never once addresses the obvious fun that can be had with dumb as dishwater pharmaceutical inebriates (just look at Dude, Where's My Car? or Dazed and Confused). Had Half Baked not taken the easy way out and simply pushed the irreverence envelope as far as they could (as in another film starring Chappelle, Undercover Brother), the results could have been both comical and critical. Indeed, the whole "just say no" dynamic needs a slap back into reality, a move away from the hysterics it usually creates. Using dope humor as a means of social commentary would be the perfect salvo for such a sorry situation. But Half Baked is just a simple, silly comedy that many will find merry, mindless fun. The truth, however, is that there is very little enjoyment in this rancid raw cookie dough of a movie.
Originally released in a bare-bones nothing of a DVD package by Universal, Chappelle's amazing TV success has lead to a full-blown special edition version of the title, complete with deleted scenes, director's commentary, and various oddball extras. On the technical side, this is a decent digital presentation, with a nice, clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image. The colors are correct and the contrasts expertly manipulated. There are also two differing aural offerings, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix and an equally evocative DTS track. Both provide a great deal of channel challenging ambience, especially in the back speakers, where a subtle use of elements gives a real sense of city and space.
On the added content front, we get a mixed bag of material. The items produced for the DVD include a silent short (except for various bodily emissions) entitled "Five More Minutes with The Guy on the Coach." Played in the film by comic Steven Wright, this poor imitation (Wright is not this fat, or blessed with hair) is dull, not delightful. Equally odd is the cooking clip "Granny's Guide to Bakin'." Starting off with actual, Cookin' Cheap style recipes, the sequence quickly devolves into an actress in old lady make-up acting stoned. The "Different Kind of Smokers" cartoons are probably the cleverest aspect of the original material. They do a nice job of showing, in pure stereotype strokes, the various animated versions of certain weed burners.
As for the material derived from the film, the deleted scenes do help flesh out some of the more nonsensical scenes in the script, but they are neither mandatory nor do they make the movie better. The hilarious alternative ending is interesting only in how many insert shots were missing from the final version. It, as well, is nothing special. Tamara Davis's director's commentary is the best bonus of the bunch. That being said, the filmmaker is not the most engaging presence on the planet. She does offer up a few choice details (Snoop's "smoky" entrance, the inspiration for Samson's "curlers in the hair" look) and drops a few names along the way (she is married to a Beastie Boy), but when you start off your track by mentioning that it's been years since you've seen the film, the recollections aren't going to arrive fast and furious. Still, she does shed some light on the why and the how of the movie's making (Chappelle's talent was hard to ignore, even by drug-humor wary studio executives) and how it plays today.
You would think that a film packed with cameos by Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and John Stewart would be hilarious from start to finish. Unfortunately, Half Baked is only about 1/8 entertaining. The other seven parts serve up nothing that we haven't seen, and dismissed as dumb, before. Fans of the movie will really enjoy this technically proficient, fully loaded DVD. But anyone looking for a quick comic buzz should dig deeper into the bowl before lighting up this loser. Half Baked is half assed, and that's being very, very kind.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Tamara Davis
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