Drug comedies take one of two approaches: They're either about druggies, or they're made by and for druggies. Either the movie looks for humor in the peculiar ways human behavior is affected by chemical substances (Dazed and Confused, Animal House), or they assume there's humor in every conceivable situation in which drugs are somehow involved (see Cheech and Chong). For the latter case, the viewers must be in a state of chemical enhancement themselves in order to withstand the experience at all, never mind find it funny. The viewer must be in that dizzy, completely undiscriminating state of mind where absolutely anything and everything tickles the funny bone. Even Half-Baked.

Actually, there's one other demographic who could find laughs in something this mind-numbingly infantile-infants, kids, adolescents. Guys tripping down stairs, flying dogs, a bevy of gratuitous celeb cameos (Jon Stewart, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Janeane Garofalo, Stephen Baldwin, etc.), and empty pop-culture references (Batman, Jerry Maguire, Superman, etc.) add up to your average low comedy for kids. Except for the drugs. The film has been rated R, but, just like your average everyday tobacco company, it's clearly aimed at kids (and there were plenty of giggling kids at the screening I attended). There's something just a little reprehensible about a film so desperate for laughs and yet so lazy that it will reach for a child audience with adult material. The film goes out of its way to make the smoking of marijuana appear as fun and lighthearted as possible and, least successfully of all, funny. The one voice of dissent, the lead character's girlfriend, is thankfully not turned into an unlikeable bad guy, but her warnings about drugs are looked at more as a potential obstacle to sex than anything worthy of consideration. A child would be much better served watching Trainspotting.

The curious thing about Half-Baked is just how conservative it actually is with its humor. Its idea of subversiveness is to have a dog get hooked on pot. It's got running gags on such innovative comedy subjects as male rape in prison. There's a mysterious, vacuous man on the apartment couch who has few words to say, and he's played, in a real surprising bit of casting, by Steven Wright.

The procedure of sitting through Half-Baked is made a little palatable by the engagingly bemused presence of Dave Chappelle (who also co-wrote the film), who plays Thurgood, a custodian whose three friends (Jim Breuer, Harland Williams, Guillermo Diaz) form a dead-end-job pothead clique (and the actors act exactly the same, high or supposedly sober). When Williams is arrested for feeding junk food to a diabetic police horse, his friends get into the drug-dealing business in order to raise his bail money, and they meet with the requisite mayhem. The film, in spite of any plot, is one sketch after another, some of which fall flat, some of which fall flatter. Half-Baked has an attempted joke every other frame-it's the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to comedy and, in this case, it's not nearly enough.

--David Luty