There once was a genre that celebrated counter-culture trends. Through farcical satire, these films attempted to influence the notions of the upcoming generation towards drugs, since their parents were long-since set against them. The films of Cheech and Chong became a cultural touchstone and were both reflective of, and influential toward, an entire generation of people. In the 80s, countercultural films fell off the radar, and though the independent films of the 90s brought a little focus on the topic of drug use again, in films like "Dazed and Confused" which took a nostalgic view of the topic, nothing quite caught the flavor of contemporary drug use like "Half Baked."
Featuring a good list of B-level comedians, "Half Baked" takes a lighthearted approach to the topic, and more specifically the dealing of and addiction to, marijuana. The story tracks three friends as they try to raise the funds to bail a friend out of jail for killing a mounted officer's diabetic horse. The movie's comedy works with a combination of reinforcement and violation of stereotypes associated with stoners. The movie uses its medium and violates the fourth wall quite often by creating self-referential comedy.
The characters are fairly simple. Dave Chappelle's Thurgood is a simple man who lives his life for his stash. He's an honest man whose habits hurt nobody. Chappelle also serves as the narrator for the film and injects a sense of playfulness into the proceedings with his glib delivery style. He also plays a pothead rapper, a character that will look pretty familiar to fans of "Chappelle's Show." He's a talented comedian and actor who fits perfectly into his role here.
The rest of the cast is appropriate as well. Jim Brewer plays Brian, your typical hippie stoner. He wears tie-dyed clothing, sandals, worships Jerry Garcia, and sounds completely wacked out. Basically, to my eyes, he plays himself. Guillermo Diaz plays a pitch-perfect feisty Cuban named Scarface and Harland Williams is excellent as the prison-bound Kenny. His innocence comes through wonderfully, setting up some great comedy.
Visually, the film is a treat. It pops with a vast, livid color palate that arcs the rainbow. Director Tamra Davis has a great eye for framing comedy to give the gags their best effect. She also uses the medium of film to expand the ways to make people laugh by talking directly to the audience and making jokes that conventional films wouldn't even try. It's this great style that endears this film to me so much, along with another of her features, "Billy Madison." For a movie made on the cheap, it looks really, really good.
And the other kicker in "Half Baked" is the cameos. From Snoop Dogg and John Stewart to Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong, the movie is packed with celebs who are renowned for their intake of that sweet, sweet chiba. Though it'll invariably date the movie in years to come, if you know who these people are now, you'll find their roles very funny.
Through all the gags and cameos, though, you'll find a surprisingly good story. Writers Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennen managed to balance the numerous gags with a good story that will keep your attention. It's not an easy thing to do in comedy, often a barebones plot is put in place to facilitate the genre's conventions or the story is so complex that the writers forget to make it funny. "Half Baked" is smart, doesn't play dumb, and is ultimately fun. The perfect ingredients for an excellent comedy.
While I can't do an A/B comparison between this new "Fully Baked" DVD edition and the previous edition, I can remark that this DVD features a wonderful transfer. It's a short movie so compression is never an issue, and I saw only a few random specks of film artifacts, hairs, or scratches. Nor did I notice any edge enhancement on the Anamorphic transfer. The previous edition, to my memory, looked great and this set follows suit.
Universal has gotten into the habit of putting together new comedy sets with a dts audio track. I'll be honest, it never dawned on me to look at the selections offered for this comedy and just played the movie through on the 5.1 dolby digital track. It sounded perfectly fine, with some good separation in the speakers and the music tracks had appropriate bass response. Then I flipped on the dts track. Not only was it louder, the entire soundscape opened up, something I never thought possible in a dialogue-based comedy. Chappelle's narration seems to fill the room and there are events happening in every speaker through the movie. I was honestly amazed at some of the subtle things I heard coming from the speakers during the dts track. While it'll never be reference quality, I do think this set has excellent audio quality.
The previous release of "Half Baked" was completely devoid of extras, so if you want to know more about this film, then the "Fully Baked Edition is the way to go. The most noteworthy feature is a commentary by the director, Tamra Davis. She flies solo so there are quite a few dead spaces but she fills up most of the time with great anecdotes about dealing with the studios, creating the film, and how she became involved in the process.
There are a host of deleted scenes included on the set, excised for pacing or to make the movie more concise. The quality is pretty bad, grainy, and non-anamorphic. What didn't make it wasn't unfunny, per se, but just longer takes of material that was included in the film. Most of them are decent, but you'll know why they were cut.
There is an alternate ending that focuses more on Kenny's return home and the crew's return to their old lifestyle. Since the movie is more about Thurgood's journey rather than the group as a whole, I prefer film cutting directly to him on the bridge and rolling into the finale. The alternate ending drags on too long and was well-excised.
The featured entitled "Five Minutes With the Guy on the Couch" is precisely what it sounds like. You sit in Thurgood's smoking position while Steven Wright, or a lookalike, lays out on the couch sleeping, scratching, and farting for five minutes.
There is an animated feature that describes the different types of marijuana smokers. Pretty quick but funny.
"Granny's Guide to Banking" is a pseudo-eucational short about baking, with a host of subtle (and quite a few not-so-subtle) references.
There is also a selection of text-based production notes that go into some great detail about some artistic choices made through the movie, though it duplicates some of the material Davis talk about during the commentary.
If you can't tell, I love this movie. It's got a good cast, a nice story, and some wonderful gags. Plus, something that's always good in comedy, it's endlessly quotable. This set is a great step up from the previous version with an excellent transfer and great selection of extras. I highly recommend it.