Written by: Dave Chappelle & Neal Brennan
Starring: Dave Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Harland Williams, Guillermo Díaz, Clarence Williams III
Ambiguity and deceit make for intriguing viewing within films because stories might start out one way and shift in another direction for better or worse. Then there are the films that present everything on the surface with absolutely no hesitation or misdirection. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it just allows specific expectations to be set and Half Baked certainly falls in this particular category. Very much a stoner comedy with exactly the type of humor you should expect from a movie like this.
Four lifelong stoner friends get their hands on some potent marijuana when Thurgood (Dave Chappelle), who works as a janitor, receives one from a lab he works at. After one of them gets sent to jail for accidentally killing a police horse, the other three hatch a plan to sell marijuana in order to save their friend from going to prison.
Both hilariously outdated in many of its jokes but also an endearing sense of friendship, this film comes exactly as advertised with what you would expect. It centers around four guys who like to get high all of the time, which means they will eventually get themselves into some sort of shenanigans. However, the lengths these three need to go through in order to save their friend in prison gets a bit ridiculous to a certain extent but where I can land on this positively comes from it never losing me in the process. Sure, things get to the point where I rolled my eyes a few times but you just have to get on the same vibes of it.
Nothing in this film asks you to take it seriously and nor should you because it just becomes an exercise of how much these three can get away with and survive while trying to do a noble thing. Even the reason Kenny (Harland Williams) gets sent to jail is overtly silly when he accidentally kills the police horse following the kindergarten teacher feeding it junk food not knowing the animal was diabetic. Just the most absurd collection of events but the tone of the feature stays exactly the same throughout, which at the very least gets points for consistency.
Obviously, with any comedy, a major factor of it finding success comes from whether or not the jokes land and for the most part, it works well here. Much of it comes from the rapport these friends have together and no matter how ridiculous their actions might be, they come at this impasse in their lives with a big heart and wonderfully great intentions. Sure, they are dealing drugs that they stole but they need to do what it takes to get Kenny out of prison so it must be done. As mentioned before, many of the jokes are outdated as one would expect for a film made in 1998 but the humor also allows this movie to be a time capsule for the perception of marijuana in the 90s as compared to where we are today at the writing of this review in 2021.
Still very much an illegal thing to do nationwide at the time of the film’s recording, seeing this movie through my contemporary lens where several states have legalized the drug for recreational consumption, there’s definitely a different aura about marijuana. The characters in this film, in a sense, feel like rebels for indulging in something considered illegal and must hide it in order to not go to jail. The current landscape still needs plenty of work but watching Half Baked demonstrates what stoner comedies looked like then and how they compare to now where it feels a lot more commonplace in society.
The big star of the show is Dave Chappelle, it does not really need to be said, but he definitely brings his comedic chops. He has enjoyed interspersed success on the big screen and while certainly a mild one, I think he finds some gold here. Serving as co-writer for the feature, he certainly had a big part in crafting this story and his brand of humor is all over this project. Really working in his prime, Chappelle helps elevate everyone else around him because as much as the co-stars try, they cannot match the comedic talent of the famous comedian, but they all succeed in creating a funny foursome to follow.
Nothing groundbreaking but decently funny, Half Baked takes us on an entertaining and very dumb adventure, which includes dangerous drug dealers, police, prison, and simply just getting high with your friends. All about the vibes and if you can get on the same one as this feature, it will surely provide some entertainment with its brisk runtime. In and out with some laughs, truly a wonderful thing for a stoner comedy to be as it keeps its ambitions low and hits a solid single with several enjoyable moments interspersed between its ridiculousness.