A lame-brained, pot-smoking comedy that's genial, good-natured and more than a bit funny, Thomas Haden Church's "Rolling Kansas" does honor to the cinematic legacy of Cheech & Chong. And, since, there are few scenes here that risk offending anyone under the age of 80, it's a stoner comedy the whole family can enjoy.

A lame-brained, pot-smoking comedy that’s genial, good-natured and more than a bit funny, Thomas Haden Church’s “Rolling Kansas” does honor to the cinematic legacy of Cheech & Chong. And, since, there are few scenes here that risk offending anyone under the age of 80, it’s a stoner comedy the whole family can enjoy. Pic, Church’s directorial debut, lasts 87 minutes –about the maximum attention span for pic’s target audience– which should lead pic to roll up some brisk theatrical biz before becoming a mainstay video rental on the frat-party circuit. Co-producer Gold Circle Films (of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame) plans to release pic later this year via its newly-formed distribution arm.

Like “Road Trip” and “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” “Rolling Kansas” is a lighthearted prankster farce about a rag-tag bunch of characters rallying behind a noble cause. Here, the impetus is saving the proverbial “family farm” — except the farm is really a roadside T-shirt shack somewhere in Texas, where Dick Murphy (James Roday, whose smirking demeanor recalls the young Jack Nicholson) hides out from his failing marriage and steady stream of aggrieved bill collectors. Dick doesn’t sell nearly enough shirts to make ends meet, and his two younger brothers — Dave and Dinkadoo — are hardly in a position to help: Dave (Jay Paulson) whiles away his days as a gas-station attendant, selling more pot than gas to customers from the nearby college; the paraplegic Dinkadoo (Sam Huntington) is a student.

In a miraculous twist of fate, the brothers uncover a long-lost treasure map bequeathed to them by their late parents — known collectively as the Hippies Murphy — at the end of which, somewhere in Kansas, lies a “Magical Forest of Marijuana.” Their prayers seemingly answered (in a departure from stoner-comedy norms, the brothers are more interested in selling the weed than in smoking it), intrepid trio hits the road, accompanied by Dave’s gas-station co-worker Kevin (Charlie Finn) and Dinkadoo’s 300-pound, narcoleptic roommate/nurse Hunter (Ryan McDow).

Screwball misadventures ensue, and Church (who co-wrote the script with David Denney) puts them across in spirited fashion. In pic’s slapstick highlight, the brothers’ car is besieged by a swarm of kamikaze ducks. Of course, once these road-trippers finally reach their destination (with a little help from a fatherly horticulturist played by Rip Torn), their troubles are just beginning.

What you get from “Rolling Kansas” that you don’t necessarily expect is a certain thoughtfulness about brotherly love and the things good friends will do for each other, brought forth by the wonderful interplaying of talented character actors who seem positively giddy at having been given real characters to play.

Nathan Hope’s cinematography is lustrous.

Rolling Kansas

Production

A Gold Circle Films release and presentation. Produced by Kerry Li, Jeff Levine, Larry Katz, Paul Brooks. Executive producer, Norm Waitt. Co-executive producer, Scott Niemeyer. Co-producer, Ed Cathell, III. Directed by Thomas Haden Church. Screenplay, David Denney, Church.

Crew

Camera (Fotokem color), Nathan Hope; editors, Sandra Adair, Larry Madaras; music, Anthony Marinelli; music supervisor, Randy Gerston; production designer, Barbara Haberecht; costume designer, Lee Hunsaker; casting, Mary Vernieu, Felicia Fasano. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 24, 2003. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Kevin Haub - Charlie Finn Dinkadoo Murphy - Sam Huntington Hunter Bullette - Ryan McDow Dave Murphy - Jay Paulson Dick Murphy - James Roday Oldman - Rip Torn

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