***/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Method Man, Redman, Obba Babatundé, Mike Epps
screenplay by Dustin Lee Abraham
directed by Jesse Dylan
by Walter Chaw A surprisingly smart and wacky weed opus that gives the Messrs. Chong and Cheech a run for their money, How High is a crafty subversion of the endlessly offensive Soul Man collegiate race comedy. Its dis-contest mentality carried off with a lively disregard for the demagogues of political correctness, the film reaches a pinnacle of sorts with Spalding Gray's bit as an unflappable Harvard professor of Black History. I don't know that I've laughed that long or hard in ages--at least since the last episode of Robert Smigel's "TV Funhouse".
Jamal (Redman) and Silas (Method Man) are heavy burners content with their life of selling the weed and getting down with the local prossies until their pal Ivory (Chuck Davis) buys the farm. Deciding that the best way to honour the dead is by smoking him, some of Ivory's ashes get rolled up in a giant roach and reverently toked--the unforeseen side effect of such necro-indulgence being the ghostly resurrection of Ivory who, now on the other side, is privy to every single answer on every single academic exam. Jamal and Silas are on their way to Harvard.
Challenging everything from Woody Allen's segment of New York Stories to the monumentalism of The Paper Chase, How High plays with language, stereotype, and convention in ways irreverent and dazzling. Spying a pair of bespectacled honeys in a bit of Animal House voyeurism, a casually tossed "I think there's some freak in those geeks" elevates the implicit objectification of that tired morsel of puerility into something as racially and sexually charged as any chunk of Jungle Fever. Consider, too, Silas's entrée to a super fly sister (Lark Voorhies) researching one of our founding fathers: "I love Ben Franklin, girl, and I could listen to you talk about his stinking ass all day." How High makes a marijuana brownie the key to unlocking an uptight Dean's (Obba Babatundé) inner brother, has a character offer a joint to an undergrad with "peer pressure, peer pressure," and explodes the hypocrisies underlying most of our social discourse.
Vulgar and brilliant in equal dosage, How High is joyful and hysterical. First-time director Jesse Dylan handles the film's frenetic flights of mary jane-inspired fancy with aplomb and flair, neither letting the piece drag nor its occasional descent into grotesquerie come off with too much detail or seriousness. Like Blair Hayes's similarly overlooked Bubble Boy, How High understands that dissidence is sometimes best carried on the back of humour both low and piquant. The film does more to examine the race divide and the pretension of higher education than any dozen proselytizing, patronizing liberal ethnic diatribes, and it does so by handling the big "isms" (racism and sexism) with high spirits and an insurgent genius. Not all the gags work, not all the gross-outs serve the greater good, but How High is funny, quick, and the very definition of a pleasant surprise.
Universal's DVD release features a sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film featuring a minimum of grain and edge enhancements and superior contrast. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix reproduces How High's excellent soundtrack with a high level of fidelity from all channels while dialogue is always clear and understandable. A separate DTS track demonstrates a fuller bass reproduction, though both mixes are unusually aggressive for a comedy track.
Method Man and Redman provide a baked commentary track almost as profane as the film itself; it's hilarious as is, but probably best enjoyed with a few buds in the pipe, if you know what I mean. Although much of the track is composed of incomprehensible in-jokes, the pair's rapport and sense of humour makes for one of the more unusual and entertaining yakkers I've heard. A twenty-one minute documentary called "WTHC Special" (originally aired on BET) is one of those extended docu-trailer promo things that use a combination of B-reel footage and canned interviews. Twenty-two deleted scenes (no commentary provided) run the gamut from hilarious (a mascot fight is always good for a few laughs) to inane (a television theft) to disgusting (projectile vomit redux); they are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Three minutes of outtakes are either funny or not as outtakes tend to be, a "hide the stash" Easter egg is easy to find and not terribly rewarding. Music videos for "Part II" and "Round and Round Remix," a commercial for the soundtrack, a trailer, production notes, cast and filmmakers, trailers for Undercover Brother and 8 Mile, a Universal DVD preview, and trailers for stoner flicks Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Pies 1 & 2,and, of course, Half Baked round out the disc. Originally published: May 11, 2002.