A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 416 – Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical – April 20th, 2011

We originally bought this for a very specific purpose not too long ago. We’ve sort of fallen down on matching up movies to numbers, The 300 in particular. Oops. But last week when I realized we were fast approaching movie 420 I jokingly said “Too bad we already did Reefer Madness.” And Andy said “Well, there’s the musical. We could get that.” So we did, because I have been told by numerous people more versed in pot culture that the number means something. The origin of that meaning? I’ve heard a few different things and I honestly don’t care. I just thought it would be amusing. Until I actually counted days and um. Movie 420 is on Easter this year, and we already have a movie lined up for Easter. Good thing 4/20 came along beforehand, affording us a perfect opportunity to line things up again and make it totally look like we did it on purpose. You know, if I hadn’t ruined it by explaining it all.

It turns out we could have totally watched this on Easter. It’s got a musical number with Jesus and everything. He even mentions Easter specifically. Not really the focal point of the picture though, so I guess we made the right choice here. The focal point of the movie is satire. And music. And marijuana. Because it’s a satirical musical remake of the original Reefer Madness. Instead of actually being a scare film attempting to use fear to drive parents to warn their children away from pot it’s a bizarre parody of everything involved in the original, from the plot and characters to the time period and very concept. And how do you know it’s as much of a parody as it is? Well, for one, it’s got the fantastic Alan Cumming to lead us through it all and he has his tongue firmly in cheek.

The movie begins with the set-up that Cumming’s character has come to a small town to show his film about the horrors of marijuana to the parents and teachers there. Ah, meta, how I love you. So Cumming hams it up, telling us how horrible and terrible and addictive and life destroying it all is, while the parents clutch at their pearls and grumble and look uncomfortable and uneasy and then horrified. Throughout the movie we cut back to them to see their overwrought reactions. It is as over the top as one could want.

The actual film itself, shown to the parents, is a souped-up version of the original. One can see the basic characters involved, from Mae, who runs the pot house, to Jack, who brings in the kids. There’s Jimmy and Mary, our good kids who’re destined to go down the wrong path (that would be the path through the cannabis garden at Mae’s) and a few other potheads and so on and so forth. There’s still the plot about Mary and Jimmy studying Shakespeare and Jimmy getting seduced into trying marijuana and subsequently becoming such a raging pothead he loses track of all else, hits a man with Mary’s car, then becomes convinced that he’s shot her when it was actually Jack who fired the gun. Yes, that’s all in there. But there’s some more stuff going on to flesh it all out, like a dance contest that FDR’s going to be at and one of the girls at Mae’s has a baby that cries all the time and oh yes. The musical numbers.

This is where the movie goes right off the rails into full blown parody. Not only do we get numbers about having milkshakes at the five and dime, but we get songs about marijuana, hash brownies, Shakespeare (in which we find out that Mary and Jimmy totally think Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after) and Jesus. Whom I mentioned. The songs are all very much making fun of the characters and situation, overdramatic and exaggerated. Which is pretty much the whole movie. And for the most part? It totally works. It’s ridiculous and overblown and Jesus has Vegas showgirl angels and the hash brownies number is animated and some of the jokes are so incredibly tasteless the only way they work is because they’re pointedly aimed at how not cool and pervasive those same attitudes were at the time of the original movie. Not to mention how ridiculous the movie’s claims were in regards to marijuana. At one point a man in the audience stands up and says he thinks it’s bull and that heroin is far more addictive and dangerous than pot. And oh, Cumming’s character lets him have it, not only laying into him about his education but also implying that the man is a communist. Of course.

Now, I do have some criticism of the movie. While the majority of the cast was fantastic, I never quite felt comfortable with Ana Gasteyer’s Mae. She was over the top, yes, but she missed the mark for me. Not by much, but in a movie like this it all has to be on the same level. Maybe it was her songs, which I wasn’t terribly fond of. I’m not sure. I really like Steven Weber and he does well with many of his scenes as Jack, but in others I find it very hard to see him as a thug, even when the point is humor. I greatly enjoyed Kristen Bell and Christian Campbell as the two leads and of course there’s Alan Cumming, whose character inserts himself into the movie in various places to great effect. So the cast is sort of mixed. None of them are bad, just not quite right in places. The songs themselves are mostly fun, but some of them work better than others, much like the cast. And by the time Mae and Jack have their big confrontation I sort of felt like the movie needed to end. And yet it kept going for another big musical number. It’s not that the number was bad! It’s just that it felt like it came about five to ten minutes later than it should have, and then the movie didn’t end with it.

So I’ve got to say that the movie was sort of uneven. Lots of great ideas and fun songs and fantastic cast members, but the pacing’s a little wonky and it throws off the musical number placement, which might explain some of the character issues and it’s sort of a domino effect. Still, I had fun watching it and shaking my head at how ridiculous it is and enjoying Alan Cumming being fucking awesome. Like he always is. I’d have watched this for him alone, but thankfully there was plenty more to enjoy.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

April 20, 2011

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

I have been told that the number 420 has something to do with drug culture. It’s a reference I never picked up because I’m so frighteningly square. Anyhow – we bought this movie with the intention of watching it as our four hundred and twentieth movie. Then we realized that movie 420 is going to fall on Easter day, and we already had a movie set for that day, so we’re watching this today for April 20th. It still works.

We slightly overdosed on Reefer Madness back when we reviewed it because we watched it twice in one day. Once for our project and once for Rifftrax live. It was quite a lot of Reefer Madness to take in in a single evening, and it was a work day as I recall as well, which means that by the end I was completely burnt out. Even with the help of Mike, Kevin and Bill it was mighty hard to get through the movie a second time. All I’m saying here is that I wasn’t completely sure tonight if I was quite ready to endure this movie a third time, but I’m happy to report that in campy musical form it is far more tolerable.

The hook here is that we’re watching a concerned parent group being shown a film which is very similar to the original Reefer Madness. The plot and characters of this movie are very similar to those in the movie this musical is based on, but exaggerated for maximum comedic impact. Things which, in the original, are unintentionally hilarious, such as the fervor with which the narrator describes the horrifying potency of reefer, are here deliberately lampooned, and to great effect. We still have the story of innocent young teen Jimmy being sucked into a seedy underworld of drug use and debauchery. It still leads to a hit-and-run accident that kills an old man (although under slightly different circumstances than in the original) and it still involves him being framed for the accidental shooting of his high-school sweetheart. It still involves a very strange depiction of the effects of marijuana use which involves manic, crazed twitching and a lot of shouting and flaring tempers, starting right from the very first puff of the demon weed. (More addictive than the heroin.) It’s just played very broadly for laughs and involves a whole bunch of catchy songs.

Boy are the songs catchy, too! The narrator sings to a group of concerned parents about how weed will turn their children into ruffians and whores. Jimmy and Mary have a great Pollyanna number about how innocent and in love they are with each other – just like Romeo and Juliet. They haven’t read the end yet but they think the two must end up just swell. There’s a big dance number when Jimmy takes his first toke that involves jungle rhythms, scantily clad dancers, and a leering goat man. One big addition to the musical that I don’t remember from the original movie is a redemption story for Jimmy where he realizes the error of his ways and tries to straighten up and leave the dope behind, and it involves easily the biggest brain-worm of a song in the whole musical when he sings about being loved by Mary Lane. (So catchy is it that one of the parents watching the movie is humming the chorus during the next scene.)

I can see why this musical was so popular. Just like Little Shop of Horrors before it it takes a cheesy movie and thrives on that cheese. When you have a lounge-singer style Jesus singing to Jimmy about the superior high of god you’ve gone into a whole other world of parody – sort of like the “be a dentist” number in Little Shop. The music is catchy and the over-the-top performances are hilarious. The completely self-aware parody is well handled and the performances are fantastic. Best of all I did actually find myself laughing out loud a few times.

I’m glad we bought this, even if it was only as a stunt for the movie a day project. It’s a funny, well produced romp with a lot of great dance numbers and catchy songs. I had a thoroughly good time watching it, and I’ll probably be watching it again sometime – even on days that aren’t April 20th.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment