review by Cynthia Fuchs, 28 December 2001
blissful friendship of Method Man and Redman is the stuff of legend.
Though they started their careers as members of different groups --
Meth in the redoubtable Wutang Clan and Redman, briefly, in EPMD's
Hit Squad -- their coming together has since seemed like some weird
kind of destiny. These adorable scamps are always making hilarious
fun of someone or something, always puffing on some huge blunt,
always reveling in the privilege that comes with stardom and
adulation. They like who they are and what they do, at least on
camera. Who can forget Meth's confession in the documentary Backstage,
that he that likes to put peanuts in his nose and blow them back out
into the bag so some unsuspecting soul will eat the nose-gooed
morsels? Or in the same film, Redman's invitation to the interviewer
to lean in close, in order to hear his "nuts talk"?
even amid all this good fun, thirty-year-old Method Man and
twenty-nine-year-old Redman have been forging a solid career as a
performing duo. They tour, they clown (and have been compared to
Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello), they recorded a CD (Blackout!).
And now, they've made a movie, directed by Jesse Dylan, other son of
Bob, and titled How High (after one of Redman's popular
singles) and plainly modeled on the Cheech and Chong aesthetic. The
film opens -- so very appropriately -- with Cypress Hill's "Hit
from the Bong" ("I love you maryjane!") as you meet
Silas (Method Man), an exceptionally well-organized dope dealer. He
keeps his apartment stocked with weed for every occasion --
aphrodisiacs, painkillers, cures for limp dicks and blue balls --
and is clearly one of the most popular fellows on his block.
Silas might do better for himself, or at least that's the idea put
in his head by his best friend Ivory (Chuck Davis), right before the
poor kid lights himself on fire and falls out the window, only to be
smooshed by a bus. When Silas sprinkles dead Ivory's ashes into a
pot plant (in respectful commemoration, of course), Ivory returns as
a ghost, ready to help Silas be smarter than he ever thought he
could be. Before Silas takes his college entrance exams, he smokes a
pep-up joint out in the parking lot. And wouldn't you know? Up
drives Jamal (Redman), who happens to be taking those same exams.
It's clear from first toke that he and Silas are meant for each
other. After such inspiration, their exams are brilliant, so much so
that soon, every college around is recruiting them. For the sake of
argument, assume that Harvard is a reasonable choice, and there you
have the film's premise -- two fun-loving, self-confident,
completely charming potheads go to Harvard.
point of departure is not so different from the summer's surprise
hit, Legally Blonde, in which Reese Witherspoon goes to law
school despite all odds against her femme personality and love of
fashion, where she teaches her snotty classmates and profs a few
things about common sense and courtesy. (That film was, by the way,
a surprise hit, and everyone thought it cute and inoffensive.) In
the case of Redman and Method Man, however, plot is decidedly
unimportant, and morality even less so. There are no lessons here,
just cutting up and messing around. Yes, the two interlopers shake
up the status quo, but only because said quo wants to be shook.
Thus, the crew coach (Hector Elizondo) is looking for a way to
upstage his obnoxious, bigheaded charges. Jamal's request to join
the team is just what he's been hoping for. Within minutes, coach is
wearing his baseball cap backwards and his sweatpants with one leg
rolled up, happily chowing down on chips when called on the carpet
by Dean Cain (Obba Babatunde). A few scenes later, the uptight dean
is getting rather down himself, after unknowingly downing a batch of
and Jamal's fellow students are, for the most part, thrilled to have
them around, including the silent I Need Money (Hits From the
Street's Al Shearer) and the U.S. Vice President's daughter,
Jamie (Essence Atkins): the film never explains how the VP (Jeffrey
Jones) is white and she's black, but it clearly doesn't matter to
anyone on screen. Silas, of course, also finds a girl, the
straight-A student Lauren (Lark Voorhies), who happens to be
involved with the perpetually tense and hypercompetitive crew
captain Bart (Chris Elwood). Naturally, she's more than happy to
kick it with the superbly laid back Silas.
is, as always, an exceedingly charismatic presence, and his partner
an able comic foil. In their joint MTV Diary, Meth describes
their ineffable chemistry: "I got chocolate, he got peanut
butter, and we crash into each other." The guy has mad skills,
plainly. So what if the film is straight-up ridiculous, with stupid
pimp and hoochie jokes, right alongside the commendable observations
that class hierarchies are unpleasant and unfair, and meritocracies
(especially traditional ones, like the structure at Harvard) tend to
be based on subjective and system-sustaining evaluations.
doesn't spend much time making these points. It's more concerned
with the good times rolling. During the same Diary episode,
Redman complains about having to answer repeated questions
concerning the movie's "message." You can understand his
frustration. It's not like anyone involved has ever pretended that How
High is about anything other than what it is, a raucous pothead
movie. And that's frankly more fun and less strained than most any
portion of Not Another Teen Movie.
it might also get you wondering about just where and how revolution
-- in class organizations, social value judgments, or academic
insularities -- might occur. If a movie like How High appears
to re-present the "problems" that outsiders (those who
won't see the film) imagine in what might be called, for lack of a
better term, weed culture, then how might outsiders be educated to
accept difference? By the same token, if the movie grants some
riotous, carnivalesque upending of tiresome conventions and
expectations, allowing insiders (those who will see the film) some
pleasure at the expense of those they perceive as outsiders, then
how might there ever be a meeting of minds across inside and
outside? It could be, of course, that such a meeting is impossible,
that the combined generational, classed, and cultural differences at
stake are too entrenched to warrant anyone's effort to bridge them.
isn't even the film that needs to answer any of these questions, of
course. But it's worth interrogating the "ghettoization"
process, that is, how films are conceived, marketed, and categorized
so that niche audiences find what they want and others look
elsewhere. It's completely likely that Meth, at least, and probably
Redman too, will have acting careers if they want them (not unlike
Snoop, Ice Cube, or Ice T before them). Meth, for example, has a
seductive presence and ease on screen that will allow him to cross
over wherever he wants. That he's so far remaining so close to his
roots, so overtly fond of his friends, and so faithful to his fans'
expectations, suggests that it may not be too much to hope that
someday, the industry will adjust to the talents and interests of
its players, rather than vice versa.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult