Directed by Tamra Davis. Starring David Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Guillermo Diaz, Rachel True, Harland Williams. (1998, R, 83 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Jan. 23, 1998
People who might benefit from judicious use of marijuana: Phil Gramm, Fiona Apple, George Steinbrenner, Faye Dunaway, former Austin City Manager Camille Barnett. People likely to have any use for the wheezy pothead humor of Half-Baked: no one I can imagine. As director Tamra Davis' reward (and, I suppose, our punishment) for the box-office success of 1995's Billy Madison, she has received another opportunity to helm a low-expectations, dead-season comedy that probably will break even if it manages to linger in theatres for two weeks. Our mission as discriminating moviegoers should be to prevent this at all costs. Otherwise, we can count on a summer glut of similar fare about lovable hemphounds whose roach-burned apartment sofas are the launching pads for drearily redundant post-Cheech & Chong adventures. Half-Baked clips through its genre paces as precisely as a rider in an Olympic equestrian routine. Three young stoner buds named Thurgood, Scarface, and Brian (Chappelle, Diaz, and Breuer, respectively) are forced to venture out of their smoke-filled lair in order to help a fourth pal, Kenny (Williams), who's in jail for accidentally killing a policeman's horse. Their scheme involves selling pharmaceutical weed stolen from the government lab where Thurgood works as a janitor. Kenny's dread of becoming a “prison bitch” creates a need for haste; stealth is necessitated by the anti-dope sentiments of Thurgood's straitlaced new girlfriend, Mary Jane (True). The humor in this movie is basically anthropological notes on doper culture and behavior: junk-food frenzies, smoking rituals and hardware, non sequitur conversation, and short-term memory loss. In other words, stuff that passed into the realm of cliché back in the time of the Johnson administration. I did laugh out loud at a brief set-piece in which Chappelle professorially categorizes classical marijuana-smoker types. These species, amusingly portrayed in cameos by Snoop Doggy Dogg, Willie Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, and others, include I Need It to Be Creative, the Scavenger Smoker, the Pot Historian, and the Enhancement Smoker (“Hey man, you ever look close at the back of a $20 bill - on weed?”). There are also a few semi-amusing observational touches, such as the comatose, unnamed Guy on the Couch (Steven Wright) found at many a collegiate party house and the attachments that weedies develop to their smoking hardware -- in this case a fireplug-sized water pipe called Billy Bong Thornton. In general, though, Half-Baked suffers from the simple, inescapable fact that there's nothing funny or original left to say about the subject at hand. Face it, dudes: This bowl is cashed.