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"HOW HIGH"
(2001) (Method Man, Redman) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Two stoners turn Harvard upside down after smoking some special weed that helps them ace their college entrance exams.
PLOT:
Silas (METHOD MAN) is known as the medicine man in his Staten Island neighborhood where he concocts all sorts of herb and drug-based remedies for any and all maladies. His friend Ivory (CHUCK DAVIS) thinks he should attend college, but doesn't get the chance himself when he's killed in a freak accident. In honor of his friend, Silas plants some cannabis in his ashes.

Jamal (REDMAN), on the other hand, is less industrious and lives in Jersey where his mother constantly badgers him to graduate from college, something that seems unlikely since he's spent the last six years at a two-year community college.

The two young men meet in a parking lot before taking some college entrance tests and smoke the pot grown in Ivory's ashes. With Ivory's ghost appearing and claiming he has "their back," the two take and ace the tests. Suddenly, everyone wants them to attend their colleges, including Harvard's Chancellor Huntley (FRED WILLARD) and Dean Cain (OBBA BABATUNDÉ).

The latter soon finds that was a mistake as he sees the two stoners clash with the university's austere atmosphere. Disrespectful of him and most everyone else, Silas and Jamal set out to have fun and get high all of the time, something that infuriates Bart (CHRIS ELWOOD), the captain of the crew team, especially when Silas starts hitting on his girlfriend, Lauren (LARK VOORHIES).

Jamal, on the other hand, is interested in Jamie (ESSENCE ATKINS), the spirited daughter of the Vice President of the U.S. (JEFFREY JONES). As the two men are accompanied by their mute friend, I Need Money (AL SHEARER), interact with their classmates including Jeffrey (JUSTIN URICH) and Tuan (TRIEU TRAN), and infuriate the university's unofficial "hall monitor," Gerald (T.J. THYNE), they continue smoking pot, having a good time ruffling feathers and acing their tests thanks to their special pot.

Yet, when it finally runs out, the two men must figure out what to do to prevent being kicked out of Harvard, all while dealing with an angry pimp, Baby Powder (MIKE EPPS), and the crew coach (HECTOR ELIZONDO), who wants to spite Bart. As they continue to pursue Lauren and Jamie, Silas tries to come up with some sort of herbal breakthrough that will impress Professor Wood (TRACEY WALTER) and thus keep them in school.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
To my knowledge, no one has documented the first use of drugs in any movie. One of the first to use them as the basic element of the plot, however, was 1936's "Reefer Madness." Although initially devised as something of a cautionary tale, it's now pretty much viewed as an unintentional comedy.

Of course, it wasn't until the 1960s and '70s - when drugs were more widely used and accepted, at least in some circles - that they returned to comedies with the works of stoner comedians Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong, best known by their abbreviated moniker, Cheech & Chong. Since then, films such as "Friday," "Half Baked" and even "Saving Grace" have tried to resurrect the drug comedy, but most have been met with limited artistic or box office success.

Undaunted by that fact, hip-hop artists turned actors Method Man and Redman - a.k.a. Clifford Smith and Reggie Noble -- have thrown their joints into the cinematic ring with the appropriately titled comedy, "How High." Not surprisingly targeted at a certain type of viewer, the film is the work of first-time film director Jesse Dylan (who's making his debut after helming music videos and TV commercials) and screenwriter Dustin Lee Abraham (the straight to video "The Runner") who've fashioned a sophomoric picture that doesn't stand a chance of crossing over to more mainstream viewers.

Something of a variation of films such as "Legally Blonde" - where stoners rather than a supposedly dumb blonde manage to get into a prestigious Ivy League School - mixed with the rambunctious shenanigans of "Animal House," the film's humor, or attempts thereof, stem from the obvious clash of cultures. Both sides obviously don't get along, but it's not difficult to predict that the "squares" will learn a thing or two about the protagonists and their way of life and/or will get their comeuppance for treating them so poorly.

With that as the basic, but rather flimsy plotline to guide the film, the story essentially consists of just one scene after another where the guys smoke weed, cuss, act disrespectful, and show the snobs and elitists - all caricatures at best - the way to belittlement.

That said, if that pretty much describes or encompasses your lifestyle and/or you partake in the illegal substance in question, you might enjoy the sophomoric antics the film has to offer. On the other hand, if you don't, this will probably come off as a tedious affair with only a smattering of occasionally amusing bits being present to keep the film from being truly awful.

The problem not only stems from such humor being limited it how far it can be taken, but also in the way in which the filmmakers handle it. While a few moments have tinges of something approaching cleverness, the film has little forward momentum, with the protagonists having no overriding or long term goal and too easy of a time overcoming the one lone obstacle thrown their way. It doesn't help that all of the characters are one-dimensional, although that at least makes it a tad more difficult to determine whether the performances are bad or - to quote Jessica Rabbit - they're just drawn that way.

As the lead characters, Method Man ("Cop Land," "187") and Redman ("Ride, Rhyme & Reason," "Backstage") bring little to the roles beyond an aggressive and angry defiance, something many rap/hip-hop artists seem to pick up from much of that music's attitude and accompanying music videos. While that might appeal to their fans, there's not much present to entice or entertain others.

Obba Babatundé ("Life," "Philadelphia") is present as one of their foes - playing an uptight black dean - while T.J. Thyne ("Ghost World," "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas") and Chris Elwood ("Five Wishes") are present as other flat antagonists.

Who knows what possessed the likes of Fred Willard ("Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman"), Jeffrey Jones ("Sleepy Hollow," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") and Hector Elizondo ("The Princess Diaries," "Pretty Woman") to appear in this mess, as they're seemingly present just to show how middle-aged white men can get down and "jiggy" with the best of them. Others, such as Lark Voorhies ("How to Be a Player," the TV show "Saved by the Bell"), Al Shearer (making his debut), and Chuck Davis (also making his debut) can't do much with their limited roles either.

In the end, if you enjoy pot-based comedies or films where former presidents' bodies are exhumed and then smoked or ground up to get high, you might find this film to your liking. For everyone else, this will come off like a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit blown up to feature length that will make some viewers long for the far funnier days of Cheech and Chong back in their day. "How High" falls quite low and thus rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed December 13, 2001 / Posted December 21, 2001

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