In 10 Words or Less
Drugs are cool, the government is not
Likes: Debunking propaganda
Dislikes: Drug comedy, Government lies
Right off the top, I may as well say, I have never done drugs, and
unless they are forced upon me, in all likelihood, I never will. Anyone
who knows me well can vouch that my perceptions are altered enough
naturally. At the same time, I know quite a few people who have partaken, and
I don't villainize them for their choices as adults. It's just not for
me. So as someone who is essentially anti-drug, but with a somewhat open mind, I should be the right audience for The War on the War on
Drugs. After watching the film though, I'm pretty sure I'm not.
Taking a page from the playbook of Amazon Women on the Moon (but sadly
neither the construction nor sense of humor), the film picks up the remote and flips through 75 minutes of sketches that alternately promote drug use as a patriotic stance for personal freedom and a way to be really cool. This is all built around an oldie-style movie titled "Satan's Stepchildren," that has no connection to the film's themes and very little entertainment value. Being a stickler for details, this is the part of the film that bugged me the most, as I've never watched a movie on TV that said "To be continued..." The way the TV watching worked in Amazon... built the false reality of the film, making the whole experience more enjoyable, something that can't be said for The War..., which flips between aspect ratios and styles without reason.
Because of the concept, the subject matter is scattershot, parodying educational films, public service announcements, and a variety of TV show genres. It seemed like the concept was to make fun of the ham-handed methods the government has used to combat drug use and sales, but right from the beginning, the message gets confusing. We're told repeatedly that influential people have used drugs and people who are uncool haven't. We're taught how a meth lab works, how to make LSD, how to resist a police search, how to safely buy drugs and how to beat a drug test. We're informed that we shouldn't vote. We're forced to watch an awful foreign film. But very little of this fits the film's inferred mission. I guess we shouldn't have expected pot advocates to show strong focus.
When the film does stick to the script, per se, it does hit the mark. The '50s sci-fi sitcom goof "Nimbus the Elder Knows Best" clearly illustrates the odd hypocrisy of personal preference vs. public perception, a commercial using the drug war's specious reasoning to connect former drug czar Barry McCaffrey's public appearances with various unsolved murders is a perfect parody, and the comparison between poisonous mushroom and psychedelic mushrooms makes perfect sense. But these on-target segments are few and far between, and are surrounded by bits that run on way too long, like the promising comparison between the D.A.R.E. program and the Hitler Youth or the examination of the connection between results and funding in the government's anti-drug ad spending. When you're catering to a short attention span the way this film is, you have to get in, get a laugh and get out quickly. Getting in is too frequently the only thing this film's sketches do.
In waiting for the film to finish, I wondered, who is the audience for this film? Well, they probably subscribe to High
Times and hang the centerfold plant on the wall of their basement apartment. Sure, it's a generalization, but boy is this movie speaking
directly to the choir, probably through a megaphone about an inch from
their ears. After all, any movie that lumps heroin and other hard drugs into the traditional
decriminalization mix isn't trying to reach mainstream America. This movie is mainly for the potheads out there, who can put it on repeat and drift away.
The one-disc release is packed in a standard keepcase, and features an annoyingly loud animated, full-frame main menu that has options to play the film, select scenes and check out extras. Despite there being 60 different scenes, there are just 11 scene selections, which makes no sense. There are also no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The quality of the letterboxed widescreen transfer is all over the map, but for the most part, it looks as low-budget as you would expect, with noticeable noise, somewhat dull color and an OK level of detail. Darker scenes suffer more from the noise issue.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is pretty clean, without any obvious distortion. The music and dialogue is crisp and clear, without any real separation between the channels. It's not likely that we're missing anything from the original presentation.
One wonders how much the people behind this DVD smoke up, when looking at the extras. The box lists "Bonus Footage, including outtakes" and "Government Anti-Drug Film from the 1930s." I was really interested in check these out, but the outtakes and anti-drug film aren't included on this disc. Instead, we get four short (and not very interesting) deleted scenes, the film's trailer, and an audio commentary by writer/director Cevin Soling and producer Daniel K. Kornfeld. Soling giggles through the entire film (appropriately) as Kornfeld prompts him for info about the production, creating the feel of a stoner commentary, though not quite a good one. I don't know what Soling is laughing at, but I can certainly guess. The echo of the film's soundtrack in the commentary doesn't help the track either.
The Bottom Line
Stoners looking to feel good about their choices (or looking for law-breaking tips) can get plenty of positive support from "The War on the War on Drugs," but if you're looking for an insightful or funny look at the inefficient attempts by the government to combat drugs, you'll come up way short. There's just not enough focus on the topic at hand and not enough laughs. The DVD isn't a technical marvel, but it does its job, and the extras are pretty disappointing, especially since they aren't the ones listed. This could be part of a double feature with your Cannabis Cup DVD or you could just skip it and watch Half Baked again.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.