Reefer Madness review, Reefer Madness DVD review

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Buy your copy from Reefer Madness (2005) starstarstarstarno star Starring: Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, Neve Campbell, Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer, John Kassir
Director: Andy Fickman
Rating: R
Category: Musical/Comedy

Bart: "What's that smell?"
Lisa: "It smells like Otto's jacket."
~"The Simpsons"

Most manly men will claim that musicals are the lowest form of entertainment and aren't worth wasting your time watching, but, nowadays, even some of those guys have been swayed by funny stuff like "Avenue Q," "The Producers," and "Monty Python's Spamalot." "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical," based on a stage production done in both New York and Los Angeles (itself based on an unintentionally-funny film from the '30s), is actually closer in tone to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," with a little bit of "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" thrown in for good measure.

In the interest in full disclosure, it should be noted that there's a tremendous irony in the fact that I'm the one doing this review, given that I can swear on a stack of bibles (or the religious tome of your choice) that I have never dipped into the dank or the doobage. No, sir, I have never given it up for the ganja nor wrestled with the wacky weed. I did go an AC/DC show once, so I'm pretty sure I've experienced the wonders of a second-hand high, but as far as personally partaking in the pot...? Never have done. Even without that personal frame of reference, however, it's still funny.

The framing device used by the film is a nice one, starting off in black and white, with Alan Cumming (you may know him as Nightcrawler from "X2: X-Men United " or Fegan Floop from the "Spy Kids" flicks) playing a traveling lecturer who brings to a small town a movie on the horrors of marijuana. The proceedings bounce back and forth between the movie, which is in color, and the town, which is in black and white. (Cumming pops up in both, playing everyone from a jazz musician to the loosest impression of FDR you're ever likely to see.)

Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell (a.k.a. Veronica Mars herself) are Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, the cutest, sweetest, most naive couple you ever did see, a fact that's set up by the intentionally silly song, "Romeo and Juliet," which features lyrics like, "We are just like Romeo and Juliet / We're happy young, and bubbling with love." When Jimmy croons, "I can't wait to read the ending," Mary replies, "I can't, either / But I'm sure it turns out real swell!"

Unfortunately, it isn't long before Jimmy is introduced to the chronic by evil dealer Jack Stone (played by Steven Weber). You'd think that seeing how wild man Ralph Wiley (portrayed as insanity incarnate by John Kassir, who used to be the voice of the Crypt Keeper on "Tales of the Crypt") would've kept him on the straight and narrow, but when sexy Sally DeBains (Amy Spanger) lustily coos, "Come on, Jimmy/ Come on, Jimmy / Suck it down for Sally," it's no real surprise that he's soon puffin' stuff night and day.

The single funniest number in "Reefer Madness" comes as a result of Jimmy trying to steal the money from a church's offering box. While standing at the altar, trying to crack the lock on the box, the incense inspires a divine vision: a full-on production number from none other than the holiest of hosts himself, Jesus Christ, played with smarmy perfection by Robert Torti. It's the centerpiece of the movie, mixing the excess of a '70s variety show with a Vegas lounge act. (Example: Jesus comes off a cross lit by fluorescent lights and struts around wearing gold lame boots.) Plus, it has lyrics that rhyme "shroud of Turin" with "do I need to test your urine" and a chorus so catchy that even an atheist will find himself singing it for weeks.

"Listen to Jesus, Jimmy;
All the cherubim say you gotta!
Listen to Jesus, Jimmy;
Trust the man with the stigmata!"

The worst part about "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy," unfortunately, is that there isn't another number in "Reefer Madness" that comes anywhere near it. There's funny stuff, but nothing quite as arresting. The film tries to make up for that by having things go completely over the top with the effects of the Jamaican Gold on Jimmy and his new bud buddies (by the end of the movie, Mae -- played by "SNL" alumnae Ana Gasteyer -- has enough blood on her to be entered into a Carrie lookalike contest). Jimmy's brief return to sanity for the song to his beloved, "Mary Lane," is a highlight, but "Little Mary Sunshine" will be appreciated less for its tune than for the fact that Kristen Bell spends much of the song in leather lingerie.

"Reefer Madness: The Musical" is campy and over the top, and, provided you go into the proceedings knowing that, you'll have a great time. The potential is there for it to turn into a staple of midnight showings a la "Rocky Horror," but, given that there's significantly less cross-dressing involved here, the audience could be even bigger. Sure, they'll be lethargic...but concession stands are the perfect cure for the munchies.

DVD Review:
The best bit by far is the inclusion of the original 1936 film that inspired the musical. It's in public domain, so it's not the best quality, but it shows that, even as over the top as the musical might be, its inspiration was pretty ridiculous itself. There's also a making-of documentary, which gives more background on the Los Angeles and New York live productions, as well as audio commentary from the cast and filmmakers.

~Will Harris

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