A charming, savvy pot-centric comedy, this teen-oriented romp has a valedictorian, faced with failing a surprise drug test at his high school, dosing his entire student body (as well as faculty) with marijuana brownies via the school’s bake sale. When we meet our two protagonists, they are living opposite lives; one is the epitome of a clean, wholesome high school prodigy, while the other is perpetually stoned and schlepping along through school with his pals. After a near-miss confrontation in the halls, it turns out that these two used to be close friends that diverged paths once the realities of high school set in. They have a bonding catch-up smoke in the treehouse they built as kids, but then the next day, they are greeted by an announcement that the almost psychotically uptight principal has issued a mandatory drug test for each student to weed out lower test scores/grades. The stoner, confronted with his former buddy blaming him for ruining his life, gets the bright idea to muddy the test scores by getting every student on campus high as a kite. Now, the two hapless lads have to rob a psycho drug dealer, bake super-potent weed brownies, switch those brownies with the ones being offered at the legit school bake sale, and get away with it all under the auspices of the principal and his new surveillance system.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is its honesty towards marijuana and pot culture, particularly in a suburban high school. Usually, weed in movies is treated as some sort of blanket laugh-inducer, some sort of scandalous, taboo magic powder that instantly instigates a low-frequency bass riff on the soundtrack, rasta colors, and uncontrollable laughing and stupidity. This movie is a little more nuanced than that; sure, the potheads are wisecracking burnouts, but there is a sadness to their self-imposed exile from the social norms of high school that seems more genuine than most portrayals of a weedsmoking clique. The relationship between the valedictorian and his childhood pal, former pals who settle back into their friendship almost instinctively, is also well executed and touching, in no small part due to the actors who play them. Both Matt Bush and Sean Marquette prove themselves to be promising young actors, nailing both the endearing and mischievous sides of their characters with a genuine sense of high school repression and 17 year-old wisdom. Their relationship negates the need for a heavy romantic subplot, since the arc of them becoming supportive, understanding bros again is more than heartfelt enough. Watching them navigate the halls of their high school while performing criminal act after criminal act would wear thin very quickly if we did not want them to succeed in their closed-minded vision; as is, the film remains fun, exciting, and laugh-out-loud funny for the length of its running time.
The film has a strong cast for a film so small, and it is bolstered down by Bush and Marquette. Bush is a smaller, shrimpier guy, with a dorky face that just manages to be handsome enough for leading man status. His character is kind of a pain in the ass, an uptight know-it-all who cannot see past his own short-term academic achievements, and Bush is unafraid to explore the more insecure, annoying side of his character at any given turn. Marquette is more of the revelation; more natural than Jonah Hill, funnier than Clark Duke, and more likable than Project X’s Jonathan Daniel Brown, Marquette knows how to highlight his likable side without disregarding the fundamental truths of being a stubborn, overweight, unambitious high school pothead. They are backed up by a couple of key supporting cast members and a larger group of familiar background players. Michael Chiklis is their main adversary, the principal, and he his hilariously shifty, scummy, and pompous; a far cry from both Principal Rooney and Chiklis’ own Detective Mackey, he is an excellently detestable villain even before we find out the true extent of his obsessive personality. Adrian Brody, the biggest name in the cast, plays Psycho Ed, the dealer whose prized Kief (read: pure THC) is what gets the school baked, and while his part is a smaller one, Brody is able to make the role into a hilarious, twitchy sideshow. As various teachers and administration members, Colin Hanks, Curtis Armstrong, Mary Birdsong, Yeardley Smith, and Michael Vartan are all funny once the plot allows them to let loose, and Adhir Kalyan and Brett Kelley (Thurman Merman from Bad Santa) are memorable as fellow students. While the star-power is somewhat low, aside from Brody and Chiklis, the cast is still energetic and game, making every scene ripe for the film’s anarchic spirit and occasional, massive belly laughs.
Recommended to fans of Chiklis/Brody, pot-centric comedies, or of decent high school movies in general; this one gets a lot more right about being 17 than it does wrong, leading for an excellent payoff when the entire school falls apart in a mess of red-eyed, ambivalent shagginess.