Half Baked: Totally High (2024)

Half Baked: Totally High Review

Half Baked: Totally High

Universal 1440 Entertainment has a monopoly on producing sequels to cult stoner comedies years after they were popular. This NBCUniversal direct-to-video shingle made How High 2 in 2019, eighteen years later; and is releasing Half Baked: Totally High this month, twenty-six years after the original blazed onto screens. For Universal, 1440 is an IP scavenger that cranks out cheaply made DTV sequels and prequels for hits like American Pie and Bring It On, but also for vaguely remembered bombs like Bulletproof (1996) and R.I.P.D. (2013). The company also put out a “reimagining” of The River Wild last year starring ex-SNLer Taran Killam. I assume their process goes something like getting super high and watching YouTube clips from random MTV Movie Awards then funding a sequel to whatever cracks them up. I endorse more studios adopting this method.

Half Baked (1998) and How High (2001) were DVD-era teenage-boy classics that came bundled with a greasy PlayStation and empty bags of Combos. Both did negligible theatrical box office but found their cults on physical media, where potheads, weirdos, and pothead weirdos welcomed their crude subversive nonsense—whether that’s using the power of weed to fly past the Manhattan skyline or smoking your dead friend’s ashes so his ghost can help you cheat on college-entry exams. Half Baked also had the staccato charisma of a pre-jacked Dave Chappelle as the stoner security guard Thurgood, while How High had the gregarious charms of Method Man and Redman tearing down Harvard University with a wrecking ball labeled “weed.” [Ed. note: How High also represents the debut feature of Bob Dylan’s son Jesse Dylan, and the final film role of writer/performing artist Spalding Gray, as a militantly obsequious Black History professor.]

Universal 1440 doesn’t have the budget to bring back any of these main stars, so the sequels need to figure out how closely they want to tether themselves to the originals. Half Baked: Totally High is a direct sequel that follows Thurgood’s son JR (Dexter Darden), whose mother Mary Jane (the returning Rachel True) moved them across the country after leaving his deadbeat dad. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from inimitable mutterer Harland Williams who was part of the original quartet with Chappelle, Jim Breuer, and Guillermo Diaz as a smoke-happy gym teacher. How High 2 has less connection to its predecessor, inventing all-new characters who exist in the same world as the first. Rapper Lil Yachty and multi-hyphenate DC Young Fly step in as Roger and Calvin, two broke losers living in Roger’s basement who stumble upon a weed bible that grows supernaturally good shit. How High 2 also ropes in Mike Epps to reprise his role as slap-happy pimp Baby Powder, who appears in recurring hallucinations encouraging the boys on their weed-growing journey with powdery slaps; Al Shearer comes back for a brief cameo as mute “I Got Money” (an upgrade from broke DJ “I Need Money”); and uptight security guard T.J. Thyne remains a narc after all these years.

Both movies use Cheech & Chong’s template of the picaresque shaggy dog journey set by their pot comedy classic Up in Smoke (1978). Half Baked: Totally High sends JR and his buddies Myles a rideshare driver and terrible standup comedian and Corey a content creator selling “Wargasm” sex toys on her social media on a trip from California to Passaic, NJ, to bury their dead pal Bruce, who dies after taking hits off what he calls “the holy trinity” of weed: a combination of indica, sativa, and the newly discovered strain Biblica. Naturally, they start selling Biblica to fund their trip. In How High 2, Roger and Calvin have their weed bible and stash stolen from them; as a result they have to travel all over Atlanta looking for it, going from their menacing old high school to a Russian mob-owned strip club before ending up at a dodgy pharmaceutical company run by Mary Lynn Rajskub (channeling Elizabeth Holmes).

The joy of the stoner film is digression; half the pleasure is how fast they stop and double back into absurd subplots that go nowhere as if its protagonists were narrating their own story but lost the thread. Half Baked had the mystery of “The Guy On the Couch,” played by Steven Wright with brilliant monotone opacity he lived on Dave Chappelle’s couch for so long he became invisible to him and now drifts stoned through his life like an unmoored ghost haunting human dwellings. The hopelessness is even more desperate in How High when crusty old Dean Cain (a joke for fans of TV’s Lois and Clark) threatens to flunk Method Man and Redman; so they dig up John Quincy Adams’ corpse hoping smoking his remains will conjure his ghost who will then help them cheat through all their exams. It’s even more grotesque than that they put his remains in a blender and try to spark up a bony finger for what they call the Presidential Puree, but it all goes nowhere so the film can get on with its life. It’s a genuine stoner comedy masterpiece, with a Looney Tunes sense of physical elasticity.

How High 2 captures some of this spirit when smoke pours out of Calvin’s nipples after he tries Rajskub’s “safe” weed replacement drug “Fye,” which has been causing insanity among test-subjects during covered-up secret trials. DC Young Fly’s electric performance and uncanny body control makes these bits of heightened physical comedy almost seem natural. In Half Baked: Totally High, the evil white corporate type is played by a snarling David Koechner, who runs (from) an illegal dispensary and tries to elbow all of the independent operators out of business. The weed film at least as presented by Universal 1444 has become critical of the corporatization that followed legalization and romanticizes the humble independent pot seller like they were a frontiersman in a western set before civilization rolls in.

However, Koechner is not the only villain in Half Baked: Totally High there are a few more bosses to beat. One of them is Shadow (Justin Miles), a drug kingpin with really bad breath who seems to be the supplier of the Biblica but JR finds out that he’s just an easy target. The real trouble comes from one of JR’s regular customers, played by Frankie Muniz, who goes off-the-rails crazy over the Biblica strain and turns Totally High into a bizarre torture horror spoof.

But for low- or no-budget sequels made decades too late, all I want is something unexpected. In How High 2, that’s DC Young Fly bouncing off walls like Daffy Duck on a bender; and in Half Baked: Totally High it’s the ever-increasing insanity of its third act, which spirals off the rails and rockets through space into another dimension. Whatever Universal 1440 is smoking, I’ll have some too.

Watch Half Baked: Totally High For Free On Gomovies.

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