Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005) – People often ask me “why do you curse so much, Jake?” Well, I’ll fucking tell you why: All my life growing up, people told me not to. Now, that’s enough to tempt me but not necessarily to sway me to a life of excessive profanity. The kicker was that no one has ever really given me a satisfactory explanation for why I shouldn’t. (Why I shouldn’t in certain situations, sure, but never any convincing reason why I shouldn’t do it in general.) As I have so frequently mentioned, my childhood encompasses the late 1980s and early 1990s and thusly I was exposed to the D.A.R.E. campaign. D.A.R.E. was anti-drug campaigning via nothing but cheap scare tactics and exaggerations. They worked on an impressionable child but once that rebellious preteen “question everything” mentality sets in, a fuckton of those arguments don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Sure, heroin and crack still seem fairly forbidding, but marijuana? Why is alcohol legal but marijuana not? Without blogging anything that would go against my 5th Amendment rights, let’s say my opinions on cannabis mellowed somewhat.

Well, a brief history lesson (that you’re probably already familiar with, as the internet has no shortage of “why pot should be legal” editorials). Marijuana is quite similar to another plant called hemp. Hemp can be used for a variety of things, including to make rope or paper. This was something of a threat to the timber industry. Fortunately for them, industry had a friend in newspaperman William Randolph Hearst who, having already started a god damned war, felt it was time for a new abuse of his influence. Hearst’s media empire went on full on attack against hemp and its close cousin marijuana. After American recovered from the folly of Prohibition, they fell for it again and made marijuana illegal. In 1936, a church group decided to make their own propaganda film called Tell Your Children, featuring an exaggerated depiction of the madness and depravity that goes with addiction to the demon weed. To sell the film more as an exploitation flick, distributors gave the movie the more salacious title of Reefer Madness. It went on to become very popular amongst stoners who found it ironically hilarious.

And, of course, someone made it into a musical. Then Showtime made that musical into a movie. The film starts with a group of concerned parents assembling at Benjamin Harrison High School to watch a film being screened by the Lecturer (Alan Cumming, as the film’s Greek chorus). The film-within-the-film deals with upstanding young teenage couple Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) and Mary Lane (Kristen Bell). Across town the slick pot dealer Jack (Steven Weber) runs a reefer den out of the house of his “girlfriend” Mae (Ana Gasteyer). Some of the addicts that live in the den are maniacal college dropout Ralph (John Kassir, best known as the voice of the Cryptkeeper in Tales from the Crypt) and “reefer slut” Sally (Amy Spanger). Jimmy’s innocent world and Jack’s depraved one soon collide as Jimmy is pulled into a downward spiral of fiendish reefer addiction. Musical numbers ensue.

Needless to say, while Tell Your Children was ostensibly serious Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical has its tongue planted very firmly in its cheek. Obviously no one thinks one puff of pot smoke will turn an otherwise virtuous young girl into a twisted dominatrix rapist. (Yes, that happens. Yes, it happens in song.) The opening number features teenagers literally transformed into zombies by marijuana. A very Tom Jones-like Jesus Christ (Robert Torti) appears to Jimmy in a vision warning him away from the “merry wonder” of ganja. It’s all quite silly. The music is pretty damn catchy too, even if some of the lyrics seem a little forced. Most importantly for me though is that the movie is about not blindly accepting everything you hear. Obviously there is a bit of a case to be made against smoking pot IN EXCESS, and if someone sits in their parents’ basement and tokes their life away that is a bad thing, but the instant life-ruining arguments satirically portrayed in the film have no place in enlightened discourse. I think it’s best summed up in some lines from the closing number:

“And once the reefer has been destroyed

We’ll take on Darwin and Sigmund Freud

And sex depicted on celluloid

And communists and queens!

When danger’s near, exploit their fear,

The end will justify the means.”

Don’t let people tell you what to think… um, except helpful movie bloggers like yours truly of course… Just check the movie out (or better yet the stage version it’s based on) and decide for yourself…

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MINIREVIEW: So at times the presentation can feel a little bit stage-y and some of the lyrics to the songs are really stretching for a rhyme but this movie plays right into my sense of humor so I love it. Quite frankly the original film it’s based on is so ridiculous that the only thing more absurd would be if people burst into song spontaneously. So this movie goes that extra step. So soon after Prohibition ended and people saw the folly of their ways, it’s bizarrely frustrating that the American people rushed into the same idiotic moral panic but instead of lasting a decade it’s lasted the better part of a century. But that’s me being preachy and has fuck-all to do with the movie. Pretty much this will be fun for any people with twisted senses of humor and an appreciation of off-Broadway musicals. While I make no direct statement one way or the other on the matter, one might conceivably understand how this movie might be more fun under the influence of the relevant substance…

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