A mild and hazy treat for those who prefer toking to Tolkien, "How High" is a genially haphazard but frequently amusing neo-stoner comedy. With rappers Method Man and Redman in lead roles and a soundtrack studded with tasty rap and hip-hop cuts, Universal release should have strong appeal to urban auds.

A mild and hazy treat for those who prefer toking to Tolkien, “How High” is a genially haphazard but frequently amusing neo-stoner comedy that plays like “Cheech and Chong Go to Animal House.” With rappers Method Man and Redman in lead roles and a soundtrack studded with tasty rap and hip-hop cuts, Universal release should have strong appeal to urban auds. But wait, there’s more: Crossover success is likely because, in the tradition of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo,” pic arrives at a time when there’s nothing else remotely like it for the 18-to-25 demographic in the holiday season movie marketplace.

Top-billed rappers are convincingly cast as inner-city underachievers who are much more resourceful than they seem at first glance. Silas (Method Man) is an amateur Staten Island horticulturist who concocts marijuana-based “natural” cures for everything from impotence to head colds.

When Ivory (Chuck Davis), his buddy and best customer, dies in a blaze ignited by a drooping doobie, Silas pays tribute by planting his cremated friend’s ashes along with his latest pot plant. The result is a remarkably potent “smart” weed that increases IQ with each puff.

Over in Jersey, Jamal (Redman) flunks out of a two-year junior college after his sixth year. At the insistence of his angry mother (Anna Maria Horsford), he rushes off to take a college entrance exam. That’s where he connects with Silas, who graciously shares his special Ivory-weed.

The two new friends are frightened at first when Ivory himself suddenly appears in ghostly form. But thanks to Ivory’s invisible intervention, they earn perfect scores on their exams, thereby attracting the attention of college recruiters.

Impressed by a personal appeal from diversity-conscious Chancellor Huntley (Fred Willard), Silas and Jamal accept full scholarships to Harvard. Even after they become Ivy Leaguers, however, they make little effort to change their slacker-homeboy behavior. They arouse the ire of Dean Cain (Obba Babatunde), who’s instantly recognizable as the villain of the piece because, in this kind of pic, any well-dressed African-American who uses proper grammar inevitably is an uptight party-pooper.

Screenwriter Dustin Lee Abraham earns low marks for originality and even loses a few points for slapdash structure and jivey stereotypes. But he pulls off a passing grade with swaths of exuberantly rude dialogue and a few cheeky satirical touches.

At Harvard, Silas is unimpressed by the radical-chic rants of a white Black Studies professor (a nifty cameo by Spalding Gray), and openly hostile to a snooty WASP jock (Chris Elwood) who’s dating a beautiful black anthropology student (Lark Voorhies). Meanwhile, Jamal becomes involved with Jamie (Essence Atkins), daughter of the U.S. vice president (Jeffery Jones). She’s a party-hearty kind of gal, obviously inspired by certain First Daughters.

First-time helmer Jesse Dylan, yet another veteran of musicvideos and TV spots, keeps “How High” loping along at an unhurried pace, displaying little visual flair but allowing his leads enough time and space to effectively interact with supporting players and each other. A couple of potentially hilarious bits — including an attempt to exhume John Quincy Adams to manufacture more “smart” weed — aren’t nearly as funny as they might have been in the hands of a nervier and more experienced director.

Overall, though, Dylan maintains a consistent level of a swaggering, semi-anarchic silliness reminiscent of ’70s youth-skewing comedies. Also like those pics, “How High” sports tech values that are no better than they have to be.

Method Man and Redman ramble through the proceedings with all the unflappable confidence of driving forces in a star vehicle built for two. What they do may not be acting, strictly speaking, but they inhabit their roles with ingratiating ease. Standout supporting players include Willard, Babatunde, Hector Elizondo as a sympathetic crew coach and Mike Epps as a flashy pimp who won’t bitch-slap anyone, not even himself, without first applying baby powder to his hand.

How High

Production

A Universal release of a Jersey Films/Native Pictures production. Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Shauna Garr, James Ellis. Executive producers, Pamela Abdy, Louis G. Friedman, Jonathan Weisgal. Directed by Jesse Dylan. Screenplay, Dustin Lee Abraham.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Francis Kenny; editor, Larry Bock; music, Rockwilder; music supervisors, James Ellis, Shauna Garr; production designer, Clark Hunter; art director, Max Biscoe; set decorator, Traci Kirshbaum; costume designer, Cindy Evans; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker; assistant director, Mark Anthony Little; casting, Matthew Berry, Nancy Green-Keyes. Reviewed at Edwards Grand Palace, Houston, Dec. 18, 2001. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Silas P. Silas - Method Man
Jamal King - Redman
Dean Cain - Obba Babatunde
Baby Powder - Mike Epps
Mrs. King - Anna Maria Horsford
Chancellor Huntley - Fred Willard
Vice President - Jeffrey Jones
Crew Coach - Hector Elizondo
Lauren - Lark Voorhies
I Need Money - Al Shearer
Ivory - Chuck Davis
Jamie - Essence Atkins
Bart - Chris Elwood
Gerald - T.H. Thyne
Jeffrey - Justin Urich
Tuan - Trieu Tran
Professor Wood - Tracey Walter
Professor Jackson - Spalding Gray
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