“Half Baked” is just that. This late-’90s update of the classic stoner comedy is a couple of hash brownies short of a satisfying cinematic picnic, with far too few comic highs during the bigscreen reefer party. Pic may have campus bong enthusiasts and hip-hop pro-pot lobbyists giggling, but most mainstream auds will almost certainly just say no, and “Half Baked” will fade from theaters quickly. There are a few genuinely funny moments here, though, and pic may light up some action with couch smokers when it puffs its way to the video shelf.
Life is one big smoky bash for pals and roommates Thurgood (Dave Chappelle), Scarface (Guillermo Diaz), Brian (Jim Breuer) and Kenny (Harland Williams). The biggest dilemma facing these four New Yorkers is whether they should use the small pipe or go for their humongous bong, affectionately named Billy Bong Thornton. One night, a bad case of the munchies forces Kenny to hit the streets in search of candy bars, chips and pizza, and, on the way back from the store, the benevolent kindergarten teacher takes pity on a lethargic-looking NYPD horse and gives the animal an industrial-size serving of junk food.
It turns out that the horse is diabetic, and it dies on the spot. Kenny is carted off to prison, leaving his doob-crazed buddies to figure out how to raise $100,000 bail to get him out of jail before some of his cellmates take advantage of the mild-mannered guy.
Thurgood works as a janitor at a government research lab that conducts experiments on the medicinal use of marijuana. He, Scarface and Brian hit on the bright idea of stealing some of that weed and going into the drug-dealing biz. Their joint venture takes off, and soon enough they’re hanging with famous rap stars, angering nasty drug dealers and running from the cops.
Helmer Tamra Davis does a reasonably good job of capturing contemporary pot culture’s odd mix of old hippie ethos and young rap hipness, but there is simply not enough strong comic material to keep the buzz going over the long haul. Script by Chappelle and Neal Brennan contains a few flashes of hilarity, such as the scene in which Kenny belts out “All By Myself” in a crowded prison shower, and the running gag featuring deadpan comic Steven Wright as a catatonic guy on the couch. But this doobie comedy fizzles out way too soon and seems all too much like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch stretched to feature length.
Chappelle’s Thurgood, who provides voiceover narration, is the most appealing and finely drawn of the main characters, both funny and sympathetic. Williams, as nice-guy stoner Kenny, also shows promise, but he makes only sporadic appearances after pic’s first section.
Playing Deadhead Brian, Breuer is one of the few thesps here who gives a decent impression of someone stoned; the others look too bright-eyed and coherent to play convincing pot aficionados. There are several amusing cameos from well-known folks, notably rap star Snoop Doggy Dogg, Jon Stewart and Willie Nelson.
Production designer Perry Andelin Blake gives the pic a stoned feel by creating one ultra-colorful set after another, with the guys’ apartment practically looking like a cartoon setting.
Music ranges from Alf Clausen’s symphonic score, which uses overblown dramatics to spoof the action, to a set of hot hip-hop tracks that helps move things along.