Many eighteen-year-olds are unhappy with their lives, but Nate Norman's (Jonathan Daniel Brown) unhappiness extends to the rest of his family: his mother (Amanda Tapping) waitresses and barely makes enough ends meet for a cramped home where Nate and his younger brother Phillip (Mark Hills) squeeze in among clutter and junk. Nate himself delivers pizzas, which seems like a dead end until he makes a delivery to Taser (Lochlyn Munro), who lives in a mansion, has a beautiful naked blonde lying on his bed, and struggles to find bills that aren't Benjamins. Taser tells Nate he makes his money smuggling drugs across the Canadian border, which catches the attention of a smoker like Nate. With only a few deliveries, he could buy his mom a new house, and he and his best friend Topher (Kenny Wormald) could set up the bike shop they've always talked about. Of course, if a plan sounds too good to be true...
Kid Cannabis is based on a true story, and all of the basic particulars seem accurate: Nate and Topher's success on the first run lead to the hiring of a crew, and before long, the two guys had managed to smuggle in millions of dollars worth of product, along with a real taste of the good life. It's a great story, but it feels more suited to the kind of lengthy interview piece that the film was adapted from, taking on a first-person perspective that, oddly enough, lacks focus. Kid Cannabis never quite makes up its mind whether it's gonna focus on the rags-to-riches story, the nerd-becomes-a-kingpin story, or the usual rise-and-fall story that so many drug movies follow, and as a result, is none of them, lazily drifting in and out of each one. Director John Stockwell (Into the Blue) noted in interviews that the kids all said they'd do it again -- "it was the best time of their lives." Too bad that twisted party atmosphere doesn't quite come through.
Stockwell himself wrote the screenplay, and it feels like some more drafts would have helped trim unnecessary scenes, allowing more important ones to breathe. At the very beginning of the film, he spends 10 minutes on a scene showing Nate as a nerdy outsider who can't get into a cool party thrown by colossal Brendan Butler (Aaron Yoo) even with Topher in tow, but his social status is obvious. The majority of the film features voice-over by Nate that could've covered that base in thirty seconds, allowing the entirety of Nate and Topher's day to be spent on reinforcing the bond the two characters supposedly share, since later dramatic scenes don't have much time for it. The "best times" that Stockwell mentions in his interview are mostly covered in montages and through the voice-over, which is a baffling decision. The whole hook of Norman's story is in the idea that a mild-mannered kid used international drug trafficking as the key to being popular, but without any real focus on those scenes compared to the drug running, Kid Cannabis feels more like a stereotypical gangster movie.
Another thing the film has an excess of is dialogue, voice-over, and entire scenes that come off like pro-weed propaganda. Now, I'm not expecting a movie called Kid Cannabis to be anti-marijuana in any way, but there's a real sensation that someone, presumably Stockwell, is basically just stopping the story to lecture the viewer on his own opinions. An early scene devotes five minutes to Nate rattling off all the reasons reefer is better than booze. Nate and Topher's second journey to Canada, during which they meet their connection, John Greffard (John C. McGinley), is like some weird other-worldly fantasy of The Most Progressive Weed-Friendly Family in the Universe, with dad, mom, and daughter all smoking at the dinner table before retiring to the hot tub. During the film's climax, in a scene intended to be heart-wrenching and suspenseful, Nate's mother exclaims -- to no one in particular -- "it's just weed!" in such a despairing voice that I almost laughed.
At the center of the film is Brown, who is alternatively great and mediocre as Nate Norman. In one of his best scenes, he gives his newly-hired drug mule team a pep talk using a number of tidbits he's picked out of other conversations he's had leading up to that moment, and Brown nails it. In other scenes, he seems strangely unemotional, so unfazed and disconnected from what's going on in front of him, you wonder if he's even capable of emoting. The script plays a big part in this, shortchanging Nate's activities by focusing more on the transit guys, led by Topher. At one point, totally out of the blue, Nate is revealed to be snorting cocaine and pills, which both feels like an unintended surprise, yet also entirely reasonable given Stockwell spent the last twenty minutes on Yoo's Brett Butler character and a near-death experience with one of Nate's guys, Scuzz (Bryce Hodgson). There's greatness in the story of Kid Cannabis, an unlikely journey from pizza boy to smuggler, but the best place to get it is by reading up on the real events -- this version's the Cliff's Notes.
Kid Cannabis arrives in a Vortex eco-friendly Blu-ray case with bright neon-green cover art featuring some stereotypical "drugs, money, and women" art of Brown having the time of his life. There are so many photos from the film's numerous "fun" montages that it almost looks like some sort of beach party movie, but otherwise the artwork is fairly nice. Inside the case, there is also an insert for other Well Go USA titles.
The Video and Audio
As with many of Well Go's Blu-ray efforts, the 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation on this disc is mostly great with one minor defect. Detail, color, and clarity are all top-notch, as one would expect for a film released in 2014, but noticeable banding does bring the transfer down a notch, both in bright scenes and dark scenes, usually noticeable in a circular pattern on walls. Audio consists of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that is clean and clear but a little anemic in terms of substance. Club scenes and the forest chases contain the expected amount of ambience, but there's a simplicity to the elements that point toward the movie's low-budget nature. A lossy 2.0 track and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Trailers for Child of God, I'll Follow You Down, and Mystery Road play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Kid Cannabis is also included.
Kid Cannabis takes a fascinating true-life story and condenses it improperly, with emphasis in all the wrong places. The majority of the film does work with many of the true crime's more interesting details, but the cumulative experience isn't satisfying as a movie. Rent it.
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