Our very own Dan Fields reviewed Your Highness last weekend. Dan and most other critics and audiences came to the conclusion that it was particularly worthless. Which is unfortunate.
The trailers looked like probable hilarity! What, you say? Natalie Portman in a bikini! James Franco with shaggy hair and in Medieval garb! Danny McBride falling downstairs in armor! Zooey Deschanel’s baby blues and corseted bosom! Also magical creatures, evil wizards, masturbation, and a ton of swearing that seems unapropos the time period. How could this go wrong?!
At the end of the redband trailer (NSFW), the filmmakers nudge the audience they really want for Your Highness: Thadeous and Fabious partake of a possibly-hallucinogenic smoky substance with a caterpillar. Thadeous admonishes Fabious, who’s evidently having a bad trip, to “handle your s*%&, brother.”
And so the (unfortunately terrible) movie falls indirectly into a category of films we critics like to call “stoner and/or slacker comedies.” It’s part fantasy, part action, part comedy, but it’s full of tropes we’ve seen before–a pair of friends/brothers attempt an epically hilarious mission involving drugs and sex and possibly Neil Patrick Harris and dragons. It’s also directed by the same guys who brought us the wonderful Pineapple Express (see below).
It’s pretty well-known we here at The Fourth Wall love our horror, but that doesn’t keep us from watching the occasional druggy comedy. Herein, forthwith, and posthaste, find our smoked-out favorites in this edition of The Weekly Listicle! Then seek them out yourself and watch them with a bud (as the original one-sheet for Dazed and Confused instructed).
Dazed and Confused (dir. Richard Linklater, 1993)
There are a lot of movies about high school, probably because it’s a time unlike any other in our lives. We’re forced to cohabitate with people we don’t like, respond to authority figures who don’t seem to get us at all, and spend our time rebelling against our parents, who’re likely struggling to keep us under control. It’s a precursor to adulthood, a time when we grasp at an agency constantly denied us–and then we are thrust into the real world to flail around and establish ourselves as real humans.
What better subject for a coming-of-age flick interspersed with drugs, sex, and booze, than the last party of high school in 1976? Linklater’s movies may play outside the Hollywood guidelines, but Dazed and Confused gets high school so right. The movie follows a motley crew of jocks, slackers, stoners, nerds, and alpha females as they navigate the difficulties of planning and executing one badass party. Freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) avoids hazing from the seniors (including a young Ben Affleck), while sports hero Randall “Pink” Floyd smokes a joint on the 50-f*&^ing yard line with Slater (Rory Cochrane). Senior girls, including Parker Posey’s Darla and Joey Lauren Adams’s Simone, degrade the freshmen while the world’s creepiest lech Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey in what might be his most legendary role) remarks, “The best thing about these freshman girls? I get older, they stay the same age.”
The nerds and jocks step out of their proscribed boxes and fail miserably to coexist, relationships begin and end, and everyone gets intoxicated to boot. Pickford (Shawn Andrews), and Michelle (Milla Jovovich) steal a statue and paint it in full-on Kiss makeup, and Slater muses on the fact that our founding fathers totally grew mary jane. The dollar bill, man, it’s green. But Pink has perhaps the best line of the movie, the one that distills high school in all its uncomfortable glory: “All I’m saying is, if I start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.”
“That 70s Show” (created by Mark Brazill, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, 1998-2006)
“That 70s Show” was a big deal in 1998. It was the one of the first network TV series to depict the young’uns smoking of the marijuana, and easily the first major one to depict it as not a big deal. I don’t like the sitcom format and hate canned laughter, so I’m not prone to watching this kind of show, but I just can’t turn it off when I catch reruns.
Main character Forman (Topher Grace), slacker Hyde (Danny Masterson), foreign exchange student Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), and intellectually challenged pretty boy Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) make up the show’s core cast. Donna (Laura Prepon) and Jackie (Mila Kunis) are its smart and dumb (respectively) ladies. Eric’s square parents Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith) tolerate this crew’s existence in their home and overlook the clouds of smoke that must occasionally float through the vents from the basement. About once an episode, we’re treated to a camera that follows just behind the joint as our characters babble amiably through a haze of pot smoke.
What makes “That 70s Show” so addictively entertaining is a combination of smart writing, great comic timing, and genuine poignancy. Like Dazed and Confused it takes the kids we all knew in high school and makes them lovable despite (and because of) their quirks. The characters transform over the course of the show’s eight seasons, growing up, going away, falling in and out of love. It’s a funny, smart series in a sea of truly awful sitcoms. Pot and slackers make for entertainment like none other.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (dir. Cameron Crowe, 1982)
My favorite slacker/stoner flicks are set in high school. I wonder what this means about me?
Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a classic high school movie with good reason. It’s hilarious, intelligent, and treats its oft-controversial material with respect. Pregnant teenagers, raging hormones, academic difficulties, gratuitous nudity, and crap jobs have never been quite so eloquently/jovially put on film.
Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) works a demeaning job and lusts after Linda (Phoebe Cates, whose breasts are now committed to millions of adolescent fantasies). Brad’s sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives in to peer pressure and falls on hard times. Damone (Robert Romanus) and Rat (Brian Backer) struggle to be cool. Don’t miss Eric Stoltz and a very young Nicolas Cage (credited as Nicholas Coppola lest you forget his familial roots) as “stoner buds.” All of this is underscored with fantastic music–if nothing else, Crowe excels at music, and why shouldn’t he?
But the movie’s most memorable character is the lovably oblivious Spicoli, played by a young Sean Penn. (I watched this movie and Mystic River on the same day a few years ago; mind: blown.) Poor Spicoli, a surfer with perpetually grainy vision and a “huh?” demeanor, faces off daily with authoritarian teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). He daydreams about bikini-clad babes and fights with his little brother. I’m among the masses who really don’t like Sean Penn (side note: really, Scarlett Johansson? REALLY?), but I adore Spicoli. Among cinema’s chillaxed stoner characters, he’s the archetype.
Waiting (dir. Rob McKittrick, 2005)
My boyfriends Ryan Reynolds and Justin Long, in a movie together being charming and pretty. ‘Nuff said.
I kid. There’s a lot to say about Waiting. If you’ve ever worked as a server, cook, or hostess, you’ll find yourself rolling on the floor. If aforementioned job was in one of those mall chain restaurants, you’ll probably never quit giggling. At Shenaniganz Restaurant, Dean (Long) feels his life is passing him by…because it is. Meanwhile, new trainee Mitch (John Francis Daley) is assigned to shadow Monty (Reynolds), who taunts him cruelly while trying to hook up with the underage hostess. Serena (Anna Faris) provides the love interest, while Naomi (Alanna Ubach) flashes her pubes. Andy Milonakis gets stoned behind the kitchen. Such is life at that family restaurant where they’ll happily sing your ten-year-old a happy-go-lucky birthday song.
If there’s one thing this movie gets really right, it’s the American public’s tendency to be complete assholes to servers. You’ll want to strangle the smarmy middle-class customers, and you won’t blame the cook a bit for putting less than savory toppings on their food (though it might worry you a little). The movie’s title is a double entendre; the characters are waiting on customers, but they’re also waiting on real life–while shoving it as far away as possible. Slacking is so much easier…and it’s hardly been funnier for anyone who reads notalwaysright or has ever worked as a waiter.
Half Baked (dir. Tamra Davis, 1998)
The year 1998 saw the release of two comedies that are surely among the most underrated of the past two decades. The first is a classic which I hope to discuss in the future (Dirty Work, starring Norm MacDonald), and the second is the last, hilarious gasp of the stoner comedy in the previous century. Half Baked was the breakout film for comedian Dave Chappelle, who plays janitor Thurgood Jenkins, but it also features memorable character work by Guillermo Diaz, Jim Breuer, and Harlan Wilson as his circle of best friends that propel the mischief and mayhem forward.
The plot, such as it is, follows Thurgood and his friends Brian and Scarface as they try to raise the bail money for their friend Kenny by ripping off the medicinal marijuana at the research facility he cleans and selling it. Along the way they befriend rapper Sir Smoke-a-Lot (Chapelle in a dual role), become rivals of dealer Samson Simpson, and smoke a whole lot of dope. There’s also a love interest who gets Thurgood to consider giving up pot (her name’s Mary Jane Potman), but that’s an extremely peripheral consideration for a film that’s greatest moments feature a ton of crazy stuff happening while its characters are high.
Half Baked also features some prominent cameos, notably Jon Stewart, who explains his conspiracy theories about the backs of twenty dollar bills to Thurgood in-depth, portraying the typical too high and too paranoid and insecure customer that pops up in a good number of stoner comedies. In fact, it hits a good many cliches of the genre, including the late-night munchie trip that winds up landing Kenny in jail after he accidentally kills a cop’s diabetich horse with some of the sweets he just bought, an absurd incident that is unrealistic and stupid that sets up the complications of the plot – another trope.
I think it’s funny that so many pot films feature their oft-stoned protagonists facing the reality that they smoke too much weed to deal competently with the problems that present themselves. It’s a trait shared by nearly every film you’ve read about on this list, and even though the characters continue smoking in some fashion, the message that sometimes you can overdo it is one that isn’t often associated with a bunch of movies about guys smoking as much pot as humanly possible.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (dir. Stephen Herek, 1989)
While the two main characters never smoke pot on screen, they are undeniably a part of the slacker/stoner subculture, and are both riffing on the So-Cal, pot-fueled idiot character pioneered by Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) are two brain dead teenagers on the verge of flunking history and must scramble to make an A on their upcoming report in front of the school with the help of Rufus (George Carlin), a visitor from the future who provides them with a time machine so they can conduct their research, make the grade, and eventually save the planet.
Their trip through time brings them face to face with Socrates, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln, and exploits these encounters for the most base reasons as well as some rather surreal interactions with late-80s American culture. One of my favorite sequences involves Napoleon’s trip to the Waterloo water park, and his love of a gigantic bowl of ice cream (which he calls “la glace”, in reference to the Neopolitan confection that was beloved by him upon his arrival in Naples.)
The film is mostly a hodgepodge of historical settings mixed with ridiculous idiot humor, but it works pretty well, and while it’s not a great film per se, it’s a more than adequate way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy day. The characters were popular enough to spawn a sequel, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which saw them murdered by their evil robot selves and sent to hell, only to be put to the test in a series of games with Death in a reference to Bergman’s great The Seventh Seal. According to Reeves just this past week, a third film is in the works, and would see him reteam with Alex Winter in what one can only hope will be an adventure worthy of being most excellent.
Pineapple Express (dir. David Gordon Green, 2008)
“It’s almost a shame to smoke it. Like killing a unicorn. With a bomb.” – Saul
This is the masterpiece of stoner cinema. A completely bizarro mix of pot-centric comedy, hyper-violent action spectacular, and paranoid thriller, Pineapple Express is a fever-dream of everything stoners would make a movie about if they had the backing to make exactly the film they thought up while reminiscing over the abundant amount of amazing weed they smoked and the crazy TV shows they watched the night before. It’s a hilarious trip down a nightmarish rabbit hole that really pushes the boundaries of the genre. It also features the only time in movie history I’m aware of that sees a fight between good and evil prominently feature one mean titty-twister followed by vicious ear biting intercut with James Franco wailing on Rosie Perez.
The film’s first few scenes feature Dale (Seth Rogen) smoking pot while serving court papers throughout the day. He stops by his dealer’s house (Saul – an amazing James Franco) and scores some primo weed, the film’s namesake, pineapple express, and then heads off to his next assignment: serving Ted, who turns out to be a druglord linked to Saul’s operation. There, Dale witnesses a murder that sets into motion the darker elements of the plot. From here the movie gets crazier and crazier, from a gut-shot supplier named Red (Danny McBride) who just won’t die joining the guys on their quest after first attempting to turn them in, escalating into an all out showdown at an underground bunker and the quintessential pot comedy ending, which I’ll discuss shortly. It’s the early scenes with Dale and Saul, however, that are the heart of the film, setting up their relationship as enablers of one another’s dreams and their problems, like all great stoner teams are.
Pineapple Express was the first time that director David Gordon Green (George Washington, All The Real Girls, Snow Angels), who reteams with Franco and Danny McBride this weekend for Your Highness, stepped out of the realm of intensely personal indie dramas that made him a critical darling. While this may seem a surprising move to fans of his smaller work, it makes perfect sense when considering his past with the group of filmmakers, actors and comedians driven by the trio of McBride, Green, and Jody Hill (Observe and Report, Eastbound and Down) who have been friends since attending the NC School of the Arts. While Green is the most subtle of the bunch, the rest have made their bones with absurdist comedies often focusing on mean-spirited idiots, usually played by McBride, that peel back the nasty scab on the traditional feel-good American comedy.
The movie’s intro and its ending are important in setting up the mood, bookending the story of Dale and Saul’s rage against the machine with the cultural importance of smoking weed. A parody of government anti-marijuana ad campaigns, the opening sequence shows us the underground bunker that will play an integral part later in the film as a high-level military figure observes a soldier (Bill Hader) who has spent some time smoking pot in a lab. After seeing that the drug has made the soldier insolent and insubordinate, he makes a phone call and declares it be made illegal.
The ending is a conversation over breakfast where the three main characters reminisce over their adventure from the day before, an activity that it’s no stretch to imagine stoners actually doing the morning after a busy night of television and pot. A drug-fueled fantasy that could only be dreamed up in the late hours by friends over a joint, Pineapple Express is a film that has only grown in my esteem the more I’ve watched it. And I don’t even smoke pot.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (dir. Mike Judge, 1996)
So many years after its peak popularity, it is difficult to recall with clarity just how controversial Beavis And Butt-Head was. As one of those kids who watched it on the sly rather than one of the parents who made such behavior necessary, I have a special relationship to the show, with which many of you can no doubt identify. The big point that few of the show’s detractors ever conceded was that Mike Judge was clearly never advocating the behavior of the eponymous kids. It was, rather, a cautionary tale about basing one’s life on MTV, even as it enjoyed a long run as MTV’s greatest cash cow. Now if that isn’t satire, you tell me what is.
In time, Mike Judge won the general public back with the brilliant and more generally palatable King Of The Hill. However, it is a nostalgic pleasure to revisit the good old days of B &B, which presented the daily exploits of two adolescent losers whose sole behavioral influences were television and convenience store nachos. Whether disrupting class with endless scatological puns, causing mayhem at their burger-flipping job, or terrorizing their stodgy neighbors, they demonstrate what vulgar, stupid, and annoying people we would all be if TV ruled our lives. How could Mike Judge possibly spin this concept into a feature film? Simple: steal the TV, and make Beavis and Butt-Head go find it.
Though completely unequipped to do so, Beavis and Butt-Head must venture into the outside world and fend for themselves, if only in the interest of recovering their precious idiot box. Their bankrupt attention spans enable them to wander aimlessly across the entire nation, without any clear idea of what’s really going on. They unwittingly find themselves caught up in plots of blackmail, murder, and terrorism, culminating in an outrageous Washington, D. C. climax. Along the way they find themselves seeing America, if only through an ultra-narrow and gleefully perverted lens. They wander the desert and have a vision quest directed by Rob Zombie, whereupon they meet their long lost fathers without ever putting two and two together. They destroy the Hoover DAMN (heh heh!) and party down in Las Vegas. At no point does the scale of this adventure penetrate their numb skulls, but boy is it ridiculous to watch.
The movie distills the essence of Beavis and Butt-Head in its very first moments. After their initial panic over the missing television, they examine the room where they were both sleeping at the time, anxious for clues. Glancing from the empty shrine where the box once sat, then back and forth several times to the obvious signs of careless and destructive burglary, Butt-Head finally figures something out! And that something is, “This sucks!”
Unlike an astounding majority of my peers, I have an extremely low tolerance for Kevin Smith. His over celebrated “hip to be dork” style predated actual hipsters in their modern form, and for this I applaud him. At least his movement was centered around comic books and other pop culture forms that can be enjoyed without unhealthy levels of affected irony.
Blah blah blah… long and short, as a non-fan, I can freely state that my favorite of his works is the one that most people like least – Mallrats which followed the director’s breakout debut Clerks and slid in just ahead of the monstrously bad (yet somehow extremely popular) Chasing Amy.
Mallrats is to Clerks what Phantasm 2 or Evil Dead 2 are to their respective predecessors – a silly, airy riff on the same subject matter which the original strove to instill with edgy weight. It concerns the romantic misadventures of two friends (Jason Lee and Jeremy London) plotting to win back their girlfriends through massive sabotage of the local mall where everyone hangs out.
The crass ‘n’ cuddly juvenile farce incorporates a large cast of strange characters, with appearances by Shannon Doherty, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Michael Rooker, and the Marvelous mentor of every self-respecting geek, Stan Lee himself. Of course Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith), the dope-crazy mascots of the director’s universe, are caught up in the mix as well, as their destructive antics bring everyone’s individual story lines crashing together.
The first two Smith movies are heavy on the word candy. If you’re in the right mood, the quirky and ultra-hip dialogue will carry you right away, much like Martin Scorsese when he’s on his game. This is a movie for sitting back and enjoying without thinking too hard. A slacker comedy for slackers.
The Big Lebowski (dir. Joel Coen, 1998)
Concerning The Big Lebowski, the greatest question is whether or not the Coen brothers sensed the explosive potential of such a movie as they were writing and making it. From a mixed initial reception, the movie quickly shot to the highest orders of cult popularity. Jeff Bridges reached a whole new generation as The Dude, the ultimate figurehead of slackerdom. He is a man who contributes absolutely nothing to society, but in return asks very little from it. All he wants to do is drink White Russians and bowl with his weird friends.
Instead, he gets caught up in criminal intrigue by a mere case of mistaken identity. As he happens to share his name with a local millionaire. As with most mysteries in the Coen universe – thinking of Blood Simple or Fargo here – the plot itself hinges on inept criminals and complete misunderstanding of the actual facts. In the end the actual stakes amount to little if anything, and the circumstances are merely catalysts for the characters to interact and entertain us with their bizarre personalities.
It is next to impossible to do this movie justice with a mere synopsis. Tone, pace, dialogue and characterization are everything to The Big Lebowski. Besides The Dude himself, prepare yourself for John Goodman in the supporting role of his life as Water, an obstinate and opinionated Vietnam vet whose personal code of conduct makes sense only to himself.
This movie takes some getting used to, and it may take more than one viewing for you to decide exactly how you feel about it. However, people who like it generally LOVE it. At its heart, it is an anthem to the average Joe, or at least the ideal of the average Joe we would all secretly like to be at our most apathetic and self-absorbed. Once initiated, you may use quotes from this very quotable script as a kind of social password, to determine instantly whether someone is hip to this movie or not. A lot of people seem to have taken the now-famous phrase, “I’m a Lebowski… you’re a Lebowski!” very much to heart.