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Review: 'Half-Baked': Smoke 'em if you got 'em

January 30, 1998
Web posted at: 4:02 p.m. EDT (1602 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- A quick check of the old pop cultural wristwatch shows that it's time to once again start giggling over the fact that lots of folks smoke marijuana. Before I begin reviewing the unapologetic stoner movie "Half-Baked," I'd just like to say that this writer is not in any way, shape or form condoning the use of an illegal narcotic, but from here on out I'm reviewing a string of jokes that has to do with puffin' on a great big doober. Avert your eyes if necessary.

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I've got a poster blurb ready to go if Universal Pictures is looking for one (keep an eye out for it) -- "Yeah, 'Half-Baked' is lousy, but not as lousy as you'd expect it to be." Then again, the same could be said of "Evita," but that still doesn't make it right. I'm not claiming that anyone should actually shell out the hard-earned cash to see "Half-Baked," but the truth is, I had to and I lived to tell the tale. Not that there's much tale to tell.

Comic Dave Chappelle plays Thurgood, a hospital janitor who doesn't mind his dead-end job because it gives him more time to smoke a lot of weed. Maaaaan. Duuuude. He and his three stoner roommates (Guillermo Diaz, Jim Breuer and Harlan Williams) basically light up their huge water pipe (nicknamed "Billy Bong Thornton" in what passes for cultural satire) given the slightest opportunity, and literally swim through the air around their living room. Then they get the munchies and have to make emergency runs to the corner 7-Eleven. Stop me if you've heard this.

Not fit for kids' viewing

One of Williams' runs (in which he's to buy, among other things, sour cream & onion potato chips, peanut butter, graham crackers, marshmallows, Cap'n Crunch with blue Crunchberries and pizza) sets the plot into gear when Williams feeds the snacks to a policeman's diabetic horse and kills it. I don't care that it's not funny; what bothers me is how writers Chappelle and Neal Brennan so blatantly lift from Eric Von Stroheim.

Now Williams is tossed into prison, and, since the marijuana gags won't offend the entire audience, we get a string of jokes about the possibility of homosexual rape. The rest of the movie consists of Chappelle and his non-incarcerated buddies selling the grass that he steals from the hospital (there's also an "old lady with glaucoma" joke) to raise the bail to get Williams out of the pen. That's right. They sell it as a logical solution to their problems.

Let's do a roll call of why junior high schools should nix any plans of taking students on a field trip to see "Half- Baked."

There's the opening scene, in which the buddies (age 9) light up for the first time, then go to the grocery store to buy 50-pound candy bars. There's the breaking and entering. There's the guys' hero, a whiny-voiced rapper named Sir Smoka Lot (also played by Chappelle), who rhymes solely about the joys of weed. There's the heroes' drug dealing. And, of course, there's the overall celebratory nature of the entire enterprise. As a 34-year-old New Yorker, I couldn't care less, but there are people out there who will hit the ceiling if they ever get a look at this thing and, better yet, realize that Bobby and Susie have already seen it. And that's the point, I guess.

Now for why it's not as lousy as it should be, although, I'll admit, nothing in the review so far would lead you to think otherwise. There are a few funny gags about the dope culture, as opposed to childish snickering about the fact that the boys are illegally lighting up. The rituals they go through while preparing to smoke are worth a very minor giggle, and the descriptions of the different varieties of marijuana smokers come close to insight in this kind of undertaking. (Snoop Doggy Dog pops up momentarily as a "scavenger," a guy who pretends that he's quit using while he sucks down the last of your stash.) I also got a kick out of a much-needed "Jerry Maguire" skewering.

One scene, in which Sir Smoka Lot gets high and passes through a theatrically experienced nervous breakdown actually made me laugh out loud, and there are also surprise appearances by several name actors. Quite amazingly, the only one who's funny is Bob Sagat, although, funny or not, I was disappointed that a small child didn't whack him between the legs with a Whiffle bat.

For the record, we also see Steven Wright as The Guy on the Couch (he sleeps in Chappelle's living room, even though nobody knows who he is), comedian John Stewart, Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong, one of the Baldwin brothers (outside of Alec I can't keep them straight), and love-of-my-life Janeane Garofalo.

Garofalo's scene is disappointing, but the marriage proposal still stands. (I would also like to point out to the reviewer for The New York Times that that's an actor pretending to be Jerry Garcia, a dead person who would be hard-pressed to perform a cameo. And his name is not Dave. Dave Garcia used to manage the Cleveland Indians. Somebody needs to get out of the house more often.)

Don't bother to see "Half-Baked" unless some international news service pays you to do it.

There are tons of reasons why your child should get nowhere near "Half-Baked," most of which are discussed in the review. There's also some comic sex and lots of bad language. Think "Police Academy" for hop-heads. Rated R. 90 minutes.


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