Nostalgia for the 70s continues, as we see a revival of one of the decade’s greatest achievements: the marijuana comedy. However Half Baked doesn’t quite run with all its brain cells, and will make you appreciate the questionable talents of Cheech and Chong all the more.
The plot follows the misadventures of four ne’er-do-well stoners. There’s the group’s unofficial leader, Thurgood (David Chappelle), Scarface (Guillermo Diaz), Brian (Jim Breuer), and Kenny (Harland Williams).
Kenny gets into trouble, when, while on a munchie run, feeds his snack foods to a diabetic police horse. When the animal keels over, he finds himself accused of killing a police officer, and facing a $1,000,000 bail.
His friends promise to raise money for a 10% bail bond, but have no idea how. That is, until Thurgood stumbles upon a stash of pharmaceutical marijuana being tested at the company where he works as a janitor. Soon the three guys are dealing dope to raise funds, while avoiding the cops and rival dealer Sampson Simpson (Clarence Williams III).
For a comedy, the film is pretty humorless. Not that it doesn’t try…it’s just that the comic setups are obvious and the payoffs nearly all fall flat. The four leads are nearly all playing the same character. Only Williams stands out (while still performing on the level of his humor-free comedy Rocket Man), but that is because he’s imprisoned throughout most of the film, giving a much needed change of pace (but mostly swapping one set of obvious gags for another).
To help out, the film is packed full of cameos. Steven Wright, Tommy Chong, Janeane Garofalo, Willie Nelson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Jon Stewart all make appearances at one point or another. None of them work, beyond the simple “hey, that’s _____” level.
In fact the funniest work in the film comes from Chappelle. Not as his bland pothead lead, but in his second role, as a pot-obsessed rapper. Granted, it’s pretty much a one-joke role, and there aren’t a ton of laughs…but this film needs every one it can scrape up.
To top it off, and in a move contrasting with the tone of the rest of the film, Thurgood is given a love interest, Mary Jane (Rachel True). Her role is that of the Public Service Announcement: to inform us why doing drugs (including pot) is wrong. Her character seems fabricated merely as a defense to the “your film promotes the use of drugs” camp. The film would have been better off by sticking with the “rebel” tone it so eagerly tries to claim.
Yet, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Watching the film clean and sober, you are bound to recognize how truly awful it is.