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Success of bong show films will keep stoners on screen

Citizen Staff Writer

The buddy movie has gotten stoned. The popularity of male bonding via pot is nothing new, but lately popular culture seems to have gotten quite a contact high from the combination of comedy and cannabis.

To audible cheers from the newsroom of High Times magazine, those happy sponsors of the annual Stony Awards, pot-sploitation films have again seen a rise. Judd Apatow’s ganga gang is certainly at the center of the smoke storm, what with the baked boys of “Knocked Up” and more recent “Pineapple Express,” which opened No. 2 at the box office last weekend. Then there are Harold and Kumar, whose adventures with the crazy weed have taken them to White Castle and Guantanamo Bay. Tenacious D puffed it up rock-style in “The Pick of Destiny.” Cheech and Chong, they built this city, and they’ve reunited; their “Light Up America” tour launches Sept. 12.

Maybe we’ve realized that it’s a bummer to smoke alone, that characters like Floyd (Brad Pitt) in “True Romance” are just kind of depressing. Even fun-lovin’ Snoop Dogg, his eyes perma-glazed whether in an interview or his TV show “Father Hood,” seems like he spends too many solo nights in the basement with his bong.

Dudes (so infrequently the ladies) lighting up together, now that’s comic gold. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong trailblazed a good formula, two likable guys who smoke pot, get into wacky misadventures, then smoke some more. The “Harold & Kumar” movies and “Pineapple Express” don’t mess much with tradition, though to different ends.

I love the exploitation film. Its heart is good, filled with the potential to critique social imbalances while employing people often kicked a bit outside the system. Of course, that’s a perfect definition, and it’s so infrequent that we consult our dictionaries.

“Harold & Kumar” – adventures tasty and traumatic – is B-movie with purpose. Sure there’s plenty of silly, thin humor – we’d all be better off without diarrhea jokes – but the films are also filled with criticisms of race relations in the U.S. The two end up at Guantanamo Bay in part because airline passengers mistake Kumar’s bong for a bomb (those two words really do sound the same), but also because their brown skin arouses suspicions that they’re terrorists. (Indian-American Kumar is played by Kal Penn, Korean-American Harold by John Cho.) Unfortunately, it’s not such an outlandish premise.

Pot does drive the plot, but the bumps in the road, the seeds in the stash, highlight racial profiling and the prevalence of stereotyping even in these P.C. times.

And then there’s “Pineapple Express.” As an exploitation film, it’s one-note, dragging a sleepy notion that potheads are funny across 105 minutes of my life. No larger issues are explored, only why Seth Rogen continues to be cast in leading roles despite thinking acting means screaming all of his lines.

Perhaps a lesson in the dangers of smoking and writing, the script must be covered in pot ash. It switches tone about every 20 minutes, not sure if it’s an action or comedy film and unable to blend the two. Stoners should take offense if only because it sets back pothead representation about seven decades, back to the didactic days of “Reefer Madness.” “P.E.” reads like a morality tale: pot kills, man.

But no worries. “P.E.” won’t quite murder the stoner buddy subgenre. It pulled $23.2 million its first weekend, so we probably won’t sober up too soon.




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