Psst! Judge William Lee wants to sell you a weed whacker.
Impossible dreams require impossible plans.
Tom (Corin Nemec, Parker Lewis Can't Lose) is struggling to get his big break in Hollywood as an actor. On the positive side, he's just auditioned for a major part in a new James Bond movie. However, he's just been dumped by his starlet girlfriend and without her participation, the indie film he and his buddies were planning to make is on hold. Ben (David Faustino, The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story), the writer, flies into town with his girlfriend's mute brother Wendell (Jason Marsden, Batman: Gotham Knight) in tow only to find out they're not making a movie. Meanwhile, a shady-looking guy named Shady (Danny Trejo, Toxic) leaves a suitcase full of medical-grade marijuana with Roco (Michael DeLorenzo, A Few Good Men) who just happens to be the dealer of choice to Tom's stoner friend Quebert (Jason Mewes, Clerks II). Tom and his friends hatch a plan to get the suitcase of weed and use it to finance their movie.
If you ever wondered what the B-list actors in Hollywood do between taking small roles in major films and television shows, they apparently work on low budget projects that their friends, or friends of friends, are heading up. High Hopes was shot in 11 days, had a budget of less than $100,000 (according to IMDb), but features a big roster of recognizable actors. The producers called in lots of favors from their contacts in the industry. As revealed in the commentary, Danny Trejo played a big part behind the scenes helping to get this movie made. The professional quality of the finished film really is a testament to what can be achieved with a lot of guts, scant resources and a long list of phone numbers. Unfortunately, in the midst of all that charity and good will, there wasn't time to fix the story.
High Hopes starts out as a comedy about a struggling actor and is generally well served by scenes of the audition and casting grind. The drug caper element is introduced early but simply dangles until the third act. What the movie mainly aspires to is the stoner buddy comedy. Cue Jason Mewes to do his usual pothead character. The big problem with the script is that Tom and his friends mostly wait around for something to happen to them. They say it's important that they make their film but there isn't any action to get viewers excited about it. Many scenes that are only mildly amusing go on much too long as though actors making cameos were promised a certain amount of screen time.
As Tom, Corin Nemec is a likeable, if somewhat bland, straight-man protagonist. Too bad he's unrecognizable on the DVD cover art. David Faustino and Jason Mewes as the sidekicks are fine but they're playing types they've done before. Cecily Gambrell (who is also the screenwriter and co-producer) is too soft-spoken in her part, which feels underdeveloped. Cameo appearances by Danny Trejo, Andy Dick (NewsRadio), Lacey Chabert (Party of Five), Ted Raimi (Xena: Warrior Princess) and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) are notable but underwhelming. The oddest drop-in comes from Edward Furlong (The Visitation) as an irresponsible youth hired to babysit Wendell.
For a stoner comedy about a suitcase full of weed, the filmmakers strangely pulled their punches. It gets as explicit as one scene where two characters use a bong. There's hardly any cussing, no nudity, no violence and no hard drugs seen on screen. Yet, this rather tame comedy received the R rating anyway. Returning to the DVD cover art again, it features a suitcase full of money, not weed.
The cinematography is very professional looking but I'm not sure if the DVD transfer presents the filmmakers' visual intentions correctly. The picture is grainy throughout and colors are slightly desaturated, giving the movie a pale look. Dialogue is clear on the adequately strong stereo audio mix.
Director-producer Joe Eckardt and Cecily Gambrell provide the audio commentary that sporadically accompanies the film. Either it was a short commentary that has been chopped up and inserted throughout the movie or they really sat in uncomfortable silence for much of the recording session. Both of them reveal production logistics of the quick shoot and give credit to the many people who granted them favors so they could pull this off. Kudos to Eckardt, though, for trying to land Sean Connery for a cameo.
It's a competent effort, but High Hopes never really gets the fire going. It's too tame to be a memorable stoner comedy and the drug caper is treated like a subplot. The script tries to pull a few tricks in the final moments but leaves the most interesting question unanswered: Did Tom get the part in the end?
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