Half Baked (1998) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive drug content, language, nudity, and sexual material
Running Time: 82 min.
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Guillermo Diaz, Harland Williams, Rachel True, Clarence Williams III, Laura Silverman, Tommy Chong, Steven Wright, Jon Stewart (cameo), Snoop Dogg (cameo), Stephen Baldwin (cameo), Tracy Morgan (cameo), Willie Nelson (cameo), Janeane Garofalo (cameo), Bob Saget (cameo)
Director: Tamra Davis
Screenplay: Dave Chappelle, Neal Brennan
Review published February 2, 2007
Dave Chappelle (The Nutty Professor, 200 Cigarettes) writes and stars in this stoner comedy about a hospital janitor named Thurgood Jenkins, who lives only to get high with his three pothead buddies, Brian (Breuer, Dick), Scarface (Diaz, Party Girl) and Kenny (Williams, Down Periscope). When Kenny gets tossed in prison, the rest of the fellas feel the need to bail him out, but with no money, they are going to have to be creative. Thurgood gets a great idea when he discovers there is medicinal marijuana on the hospital premises, which he and his boys use in order to start selling their own weed as a fundraising effort to spring Kenny from being sodomized daily in the pen. However, when Thurgood meets an attractive anti-drug woman named Mary Jane (True, The Craft), he has to keep everything hushed in order to gain the one thing he likes more than weed (*ahem*).
I should point out that I'm not a pothead (my movie-watching hobby is expensive enough without getting the munchies for concession stand food), so I'm probably not among the film's biggest target audience. However, I do like Up in Smoke, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and some other films one might deem as "stoner comedies". If a comedy is clever enough, I'll laugh, regardless of how I feel about the lifestyle depicted within.
If Half Baked is clever enough to satisfy this straight, sober filmgoer, I'm guessing that it is an absolute classic for those who are, or who have at one time, toked up on the national grass-time. Its plot is a joke, and nonexistent during long stretches, but that's par for the course for the mini-genre. The sheer randomness of the material proves to be an asset in this case. Besides, does anyone ever expect any project revolving around the lives of potheads to be fast paced, intricately plotted, or tightly edited?
Of course not. You'll like it if you laugh at the little stupid things: they dub their chosen smoking vessel as "Billy Bong Thornton", they fly high through the air like Superman (even the dog), and they have a guy that lives only to sleep on the couch. Director Tamra Davis, who showed a penchant for the absurd with Billy Madison, at least has an excuse here to fully explore the bizarre side of comedy that has marred her earlier work. However, it's really Chappelle's insightfulness that generates the interest level, with funny characters that merit a continuation on their own TV sitcom, if there were actually a network brave enough to do a pro-drug comedy (Showtime's "Weeds" is the only real equivalent).
I'll admit, Half Baked isn't what someone could rightfully call a good film, if measured by the normal standards (plot, character, direction, writing, acting, etc.), but it is fitfully funny, and surprisingly clever on more than one occasion. Although he wasn't granted as much creative freedom as he would later experience on "The Dave Chappelle Show", Chappelle fans should also enjoy this to see some of his early comedic material, which contains elements he would reprise later to greater detail. It may not be good filmmaking, but as a film created strictly to induce laughter (and hunger), Half Baked isn't half bad.
©2007 Vince Leo