Here’s to movies that go for high art
Once a year, Hollywood churns out a low-brow comedy disguised as high art — and by high I mean the type of munchies-inspired cinema that gave us the likes of Cheech and Chong.
Stoner cinema has carved for itself a place among modern-day movie audiences, simply by knowing its limits and staying within them. Few pot comedies have Shakespearean aspirations; fewer still are bound by elements such as script and cinematography (they almost always have killer soundtracks, though).
The modus operandi of most stoner comedies is to make audiences laugh at really stupid stuff, which is a lot harder than it looks.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas, the third installment in the cannabis-friendly Harold & Kumar franchise, shambles into theatres Friday for another round of high-jinks. The first two entries were hits of the cult variety, so there’s no reason why 3-D Christmas shouldn’t deliver on a modest scale. Another stoner flick is on the way in December (via the longoverdue Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter), proving that the getting is as good as ever for green-screen offerings.
Here’s a handful of mustsee stoner comedies. 1 Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978). The grand poobah of stoner movies was not considered a sure thing upon release, even though it came long after the comedy duo had ascended the top of the comedy album charts. The stoner genre had yet to go mainstream until Up in Smoke, which exploded on impact thanks to a neverending string of midnightmovie showings and a further six films from the duo. It continues to inspire everything from hip-hop to South Park. As Chong puts it during the film, “You’d better put your seatbelt on,
I’ll tell you that much.”
2 Dazed and Confused
(1993). Richard Linklater’s star-making movie is considered by audiences and critics alike to be a film of significance, if not for its whip-smart dialogue, then for its undercurrent of effervescence. Dazed and Confused, which chronicles the last day of high school in 1976, judges not its central characters, some of whom are borderline unlikable. Instead, Dazed and Confused speeds through its 90 minutes like a high-school road trip, with all the naughty bits left in.
3 Pineapple Express
(2008). Madcap is the only way to describe David Gordon Green’s hilariously off-kilter farce about a day in the life of a numbskull pot dealer and his bumbling client. The film is full of pitch-perfect cameos and immensely quotable dialogue, the majority of which comes from a never-better James Franco, whose performance is the best onscreen stoner since Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli. 4 Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Though it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a full-on stoner comedy, its most infamous character, the aforementioned Spicoli, is a certifiable stoner screen legend (His mantra: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”) The film, written by future Oscar winner Cameron Crowe, hits all the right notes with an ensemble cast unlike any other in ’80s teen comedy. Fast Times scores big-time.
The Big Lebowski (1998).
The Dude, as played by Jeff Bridges, is a pot-smoking layabout who gets embroiled in a nasty mix-up with a millionaire and his henchmen. Along the way, The Dude smokes a lot of pot, drinks a lot of White Russians, plays a lot of bowling and tangles with a trio of scene-stealing German nihilists. At first, it was a cult sensation. Nowadays, the adoring audience for this Coen Brothers classic expands by the year. 6 Friday (1995). Every stoner comedy star needs a hilarious sidekick, and in Friday the court jester is played to the hilt by Chris Tucker in his breakout role. His character, the aptly-titled Smokey, steals every scene he’s in, and gave star-writer-producer Ice Cube a foundation on which the franchise was based. The series has lost considerable lustre over the years — a fourth Friday will hit theatres this summer — but the original remains a smoke-filled classic.
Super Troopers (2002).
Thanks to university students everywhere, the first (and best) comedy from New York’s Broken Lizard comedy troupe has enjoyed a life well past its expiry date. Less a front-to-back movie than a series of hilarious vignettes, Super Troopers puts pot in the hands of cops and lets everyone run wild with the possibilities. See it for the opening scene alone.
Half Baked (1998). Dave Chappelle, who co-wrote and co-stars, maintains that Half Baked was half-realized. The comic had intended Half Baked to be far racier and R-rated than the final product, which was ultimately tinkered with by its parent studio. A series of gags centred on a trio of friends who sell pot to free their friend from jail, Half Baked is exactly that. Sophomoric? Yes. But stoneriffic nonetheless.
Knocked Up (2007). The primary plot of Judd Apatow’s “pregnancy comedy” revolves around the one-night stand between Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, but the best parts come from the bit players, particularly a collection of potheads (Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Jonah Hill, among them) who can’t help but be hilarious. 10 Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)/Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000). One-trick ponies both, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car? succeed despite their inane premises. Both revolve around a single idea — Harold and Kumar finds its titular leads in search of food, while the dudes in Dude, Where’s My Car? can’t recall the events of the night before — but manage to stretch a single joke over an entire film.