Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Confession vs. Half Baked: Which Kicks More Ass?

Nope, I won't be able to dig myself out of this hole, but it's almost 1 in the morning, and I think the best thing for all involved is to just get it over with. I think the title should be, rather, "The Double Bill from Hell". No offense to either the filmmakers or the programmers who put the double bill together. In a sense, they are kinda similar: one being an obscure actor's showcase, the other a cult comedy about weed. Both about protagonists on the verge of great career success, but who throw it all away in order to do the right thing. Ain't that the whole story of life right there?
Up first, The Confession, and I will say it looked pretty great in HD, no less! I don't know. It's not particularly remarkable, kind of a hybrid of The Verdict and A Civil Action, not to give too much away. Maybe a little Fracture thrown into the mix, but without Hannibal to make it a kitsch klassic. And no David Mamet screenplay where he gets to throw in (just one of) his trademark line(s), "Things change". It starts with two seemingly separate story threads, one of a lawyer on his way to the top, played by an extra-pouty Alec Baldwin... I was able to suspend my disbelief eventually, but I couldn't help but think of the gazillions of times he was on SNL. Schwety balls!!! The other (plot thread) is about a family about to be visited by an awful family tragedy. Hard to believe this was filmed in the Clinton administration! Anyway, the two seemingly disparate story threads eventually intertwine, taking up the rest of the damn movie, but not before alpha dog Jay O. Sanders struts his rich businessman stuff all over the place. Surely Maxim magazine took note of this guy! Or GQ or Details or any number of the other men's magazines out there. Thoreau's lost essay, my ass! That's another thing one of these movies usually has. In American Beauty it was the Nazi dinnerware, ... there's other examples, I'm sure. Oh yeah, Safe Men had the Stanley cup. Priceless. Anyway, things unfold in a typical way eventually, but they throw enough dust into your eyes to keep it interesting. Incidentally, how does a rising star defense attorney get to be D.A.? Would they let Johnny Cochran be D.A. in Los Angeles? I think not. And how many judges do you know who are dating a defense attorney? Just Janice Rogers Brown, huh? I thought so. And how unlikely is it that said defense attorney would get involved with his client's wife? Well, I guess I gave just about all of it away. The actors are in fine form, of course. Ben Kingsley does his usual solid work, although I just couldn't get into his quest against the modern justice system, or his proselytizing on the subject of God. Time to refresh yourself on the story of Job. Six Feet Under's Richard Jenkins is also on hand, although I hear it's not his best work since The Visitor, or The Witches of Eastwick, for that matter. I don't know who the prosecuting attorney was, but if he worked on it I think he's got a great Tom Brokaw impression in his future!...
To cleanse a jaded melodrama palate, Half Baked was next on the docket. Don't ask me why. Okay, it was on sale at the pawn shop. And the picture quality was great! Watching it in HD, though, you can tell it was made the old fashioned way, on good ol' 35mm celluloid. Just like Problem Child. Brought to you by the same producer-director team behind Billy Madison, and made one year before The Confession (ANOTHER similarity!), it also follows many standard comedy formulas even though it's about weed. It's purportedly a cult classic. I think someone might have recommended it to me, can't remember. I do know it's got the same John Landis font that Animal House had, also a Universal picture. Apparently Chappelle was disappointed with the end result, calling it a "stoner comedy for kids." Guess Up In Smoke was already made or something. No one goes home happy.
So, not to give too much away, the plot is as follows. Dave Chappelle and his three friends like to smoke weed. Life is good until one day, one of his friends gets thrown in jail. That part is too good to reveal. They need to raise $100,000 bail, even though they set it at a million. But how are they going to raise a hundred thousand dollars? They got it: sell weed. But how? Then, the answer presents itself: the pharmaceutical company has their own source of weed to be tested on behalf of the FDA. Uh huh. Chappelle... I mean, Thurgood Jenkins, fortunately gets involved and the final piece of the puzzle is in place. The Doofer's still locked up, gives the trio on the outside his blessing (another good scene) and the grand scheme of schemes is bourne. Meanwhile, Chappelle... Thurgood meets the love of his life, a gal named Mary Jane who was visiting her father in prison. She's virulently anti-weed, isn't sorry her dad's locked up for selling weed, and scrumptious as hell. Oh, was I ever that young? And of course, the big drug dealer in the area gets wind of all this and puts the screws to Thurgood's operation. I swear, that dude could be D.L. Hughley's father.

Cameos and homages abound. If I remember correctly, there's even one for the shower scene in American History X, or is it just prison movies in general? Love that one blatant shower shot. Oh yeah. Breuer gets fired from his job at the record store, and with briefcase in hand, does the homage to Jerry Maguire. Guillermo Diaz at one point, does the homage to Dead Presidents... am I the only one who remembers? Jon Stewart has a bit as a weed buyer who's constantly amazed at how weed makes normal things interesting. I'm thinking, too late for an Oscar nomination? Why, even Snoop has a cameo and works over a roach like a 7th degree Black Belt... in weed smoking. Okay, YOU phrase that better!...

Well, I don't know what else can be said. An amicable way to spend 82 minutes all around. And a fine springboard for Dave Chappelle's talent: at one point there are two of him in the same shot: Thurgood and Sir Smoke-a-lot. And even though it's not a romantic comedy, for the life of me I can't think of a more romantic line than the film's last... about how, um... ladies trump weed, for lack of better terminology. And was that Jada Pinkett Smith as the talking joint? Let me check... nope, guess not.

*** for both
-so sayeth the Movie (Review) Hooligan.

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