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.
The Video and Audio
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.