Stoner comedy has been one subgenre that remains a perennial. It passes on for a while, then comes back for a stretch, then isn't seen again for a few years. After the "Cheech and Chong" period of the eighties, pot humor seemed to die out until 1997's "Half Baked". "Bongwater", also filmed in 1997, never actually made it to theaters that year, but now finds itself going straight-to-video. Bummer, dude.
"Bongwater" is one of those films that probably didn't seem sellable a few years ago, but now that the stars involved have gone on to bigger and better things, it gets a minimal release in an attempt to gain interest from home vid audiences. An adaption of Michael Hornburg's 1996 novel of the same name, "Bongwater" stars Luke Wilson as David, a low-level pot dealer in love with Serena (Alicia Witt). The opening of the film has the two breaking up - we're then told in flashback how everything up until that point happened.
The film revolves around their lackluster relationship, while several supporting characters orbit around them. Brittany Murphy, Amy Locane, Jamie Kennedy, and Jeremy Sisto are just some of the names involved - there's even an early Jack Black (Saving Silverman, High Fidelity) as a pot farmer. The performances are decent, but the mixture of comedic styles makes for several folks who stuggle to keep up. Wilson's droopy persona either comes off as boring or hilarious - the only time I've ever found him hilarious was in Wes Anderson's terrific debut "Bottle Rocket". Otherwise, there's only flashes of several others. Andy Dick is a bit more restrained than usual as one of David's customers. Black provides some momentary hilariity, while Witt is beautiful as usual, but finds herself in another shrill character.
Why the film is called "Bongwater" in the first place is beyond me. Although pot does play a role in the picture, it's more of a twenty-something comedy/drama instead of a "Half Baked" laugh-fest. The main problem with the picture - and why it probably really never went anywhere in the first place - is that it wanders around like a stoned teenager in search of a party. About halfway through, I started wondering where the film was going and after I found out, I wondered what was the point in the first place.
VIDEO: "Bongwater" is presented in 1.33:1 full_frame. The presentation from Image Entertainment is quite decent, offering fine sharpness and detail to the image, with only a couple of darker scenes that seemed slightly on the murky side. The picture is suprisingly free of any major problems for a low-budget production - the image seems crisp and free of any noticable print flaws and no edge enhancement or pixelation is visible. Colors looked bright, rich and generally well-rendered with the exception of a few city scenes, where the yellow tint seemed a bit too heavy. A decent transfer.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is generally very basic. Surrounds are consistently on, but only provide extremely subtle ambience and the occasional bit of music. Audio quality was fine; the ambient sounds came through crisply and naturally, music was rich and full and dialogue sounded clear and easily understood. Not bad for a low-budget production.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus with simple film-themed images as backgrounds.
EXTRAS:: Trailer and international trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Bongwater" was amusing to watch in terms of seeing all of these performers in early roles, but the story didn't really go anywhere or did the characters provide much interest. Image's DVD provides fine audio/video quality and nothing much in terms of extras. May be worth a rental for those who are interested in seeing these stars early on.