High School John Stalberg, Jr.
Published Jun 08, 2012The stoner movie has a long and honourable cinematic tradition that dates back to the 1936 weed-panic delight Reefer Madness and extends as far as a Golden Globes nomination for James Franco in Pineapple Express. Into this smoked-out arena walks first-time feature director John Stalberg, Jr., armed with a realistic idea of pot culture and a secret weapon in the form of Michael Chiklis (The Shield, Fantastic Four). The plot mechanics are familiar and the tropes are all in place, making for an entirely competent, even fun version of the high school/pot comedy hybrid. It doesn't achieve special but it's perfectly competent.
At the core of the film are the former close friends grown apart: grades-obsessed nerd Henry Burke (Matt Bush, channeling Justin Long) and the burnout bad boy Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette, doing his pre-Oscars Jonah Hill). First off, naming a high school stoner Breaux deserves its own sentence, props for that. Travis smokes Henry up for the first time just before the school principal announces a crackdown on drugs in the form of a school-wide drug test to be done the next day. Henry ― fearing the end of his promising academic career ― panics; figuring that the only way to get out of failing the test is to make the results irrelevant, Burke and Breaux hatch a plan to carpet bomb the school bake sale in the form of pot brownies.
With the misfit pair in place comes the next stoner movie trope: the otherwise "serious" actor in a supporting role as a pot casualty/mentor, in this case Oscar winning Adrien Brody as Psycho Ed. (See also: Brad Pitt in True Romance; Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.) Needing Psycho Ed to provide enough supply to get the whole school high (oh wait, I just got the movie title! funny!), the boys steal the super strain of crystalized THC that Ed has spent years perfecting. Naturally, Breaux spills most of it into their brownie recipe. Brownies get swapped out at school, and within minutes, the entire school is blurry and slow, including faculty.
Scratch that ― especially faculty. It's the adults in this film who provide most of the comedy, in the form of Chiklis's horribly-toupe'd disciplinarian and his right hand, Colin Hanks. Chiklis in particular is the comic highlight of the whole film, an unrecognizable portrayal of a fuming authority figure brought low by goods and faculty, both of them baked.
Unlike most pot-oriented films (Reefer Madness for sure, but many other examples), Stalburg, Jr. doesn't overstate the effects of marijuana consumption. There are no tripping hallucinations, no screaming youngsters trying to claw out their own eyes. The actual effects are portrayed on screen ― slow thinking and reaction times and a general lethargy. But you know what isn't often hilarious on screen? Slow reaction times and general lethargy. The lack of comedy stemming from the student body is a miss for High School, and it falls on the faculty ― and to a lesser extent the "look at me, I'm Oscar winner Adrien Brody acting crazy" performance of Oscar winner Adrien Brody ― to bring the funny funk.
High School is a good entry into the field of dreams inhabited by Harold and Kumar; it's not better than the best stoner comedies, but it won't harsh your buzz either. And it's important for each generation to have their own defining stoner flick, be it Cheech & Chong, Half Baked or The Passion of the Christ, at least to newly reclaim the language so old people aren't throwing anachronisms like "harsh your buzz" at you. (Anchor Bay)