Half Baked

Half Baked (1998)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Jim Breuer, Harland Williams, Guillermo Diaz, Clarence Williams III
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Featurettes

"You have smoked yourself retarded…"

Network and cable television have become an entertainment minefield. For every runaway success (sometimes of questionable quality), there's a brilliant show that never finds an audience and slips by the wayside. Then occasionally, there's a popular, ratings giant and network cash-cow that flounders under the weight of its own success. "The Chappelle Show," a Comedy Central sketch series created by Dave Chappelle, was a masterstroke of biting wit and fierce humor that consistently broke through the contrived walls of cable TV. Its strange demise, despite its ability to make millions, sent a lot of fans searching for any material that could quench the Chappelle thirst. 'Half Baked,' an unfocused but amusing comedy about the trials of four dope fiends, is an adequate option… but rarely hits with the same power as what you really want to see.

The story focuses on Thurgood Jenkins (Chappelle), a lovelorn janitor who has nothing to do in his free time but smoke weed with his childhood friends Scarface (Guillermo Diaz), Brian (Jim Breuer), and Kenny (Harland Williams). When Kenny is arrested for killing a police officer (he feeds candy to a diabetic patrol horse), the three underachievers on the outside must concoct a scheme to bail him out of jail before he finds too many friends in the prison showers. At a loss, fate shines down on our unlikely heroes when Thurgood realizes a simple, forged hospital form allows him to retrieve unlimited amounts of medical marijuana from his employer's stockroom. Selling to all sorts of potheads, dodging rival dealers, and falling in love, Thurgood fights through a series of mishaps to try and help his friend.

The best moments in the film come when Chappelle hints at the tone and genius of his future television show. Scenes where he sells drugs to a hip-hop star (played by himself), encounters all shades of customers (Jon Stewart, Snoop Dog, Stephen Baldwin, and others), and anytime he plays the "well-balanced character" in the midst of madness, he shines. Otherwise, the movie has a few laughs, but mostly feels tangential and distracted. Jim Breuer's angry tirades are absent… even when he's sober, the main villain is more awkward than funny, and most of the scenes that concern plot progression feel forced. By the end, the movie is a living cartoon and loses the appeal it gained in the first hour of a tour through the world of a pothead.

Don't misunderstand, there's a lot to love in this flick and I wouldn't roll my eyes at anyone that declared themselves a big fan. Plus I'm sure if you were ever a part of the stoner culture, this movie will be instantly hilarious. For me, 'Half Baked' felt a lot like the Saturday Night Live sketches turned movies that would kill on TV for five minutes but drag on the big screen at an hour and a half. I would definitely give this one a rent, but your enjoyment will entirely come down to your taste in comedy.

The video presentation, aside from a few intentionally painfully blue-screened shots, was quite a surprise. Presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec, colors drip from the screen and add depth, dimension, and a beautiful rendering to almost every scene. Certain scenes seem to be on the soft side (take a look at the crosscut scene when Chappelle talks to Mary Jane on the phone and compare the two shots, side by side) but detail levels are generally high and sharp throughout. There's a deep range of blacks and shadow detail, and the contrast and clarity are consistent and stable. The picture almost looks too colorful (again lending to the feeling that you're watching a cartoon), but according to the commentary, was a purposeful decision to highlight the surreal perception of reality people smoking reefer slip under. All in all, it would be impossible to churn out a better transfer of a comedy of its kind and it stands head and shoulders above many other high definition releases.

The audio isn't as impressive, but does reasonably well with what it's given. The DTS track on the standard definition side of this combo disc gives you a more natural bass range, but otherwise seems weak compared to the healthy, high-def Dolby mix. With so much dialogue, most of the soundfield was front heavy and there weren't many scenes to take advantage of multiple channels. Voices were clear and line delivery never wavered, even when a character whispered or could barely speak. I also noticed I had to turn my system volume up higher than usual, but this hardly registers as a complaint (just as a curiosity). With all that said, the audio presentation is exactly what you'd expect from a straight-forward comedic soundscape and only audiophiles will find something to pull their attention away from Chappelle.

The extras on the HD DVD side of the disc are limited to a director's commentary and scene bookmarks, but this combo format allows you to view all of the original extras present on the standard definition side. The commentary with director Tamra Davis was refreshing at first, as it was interesting to hear from a female director for once, but her track quickly devolves into silence and the occasional "you-shoulda-been-there" anecdotes that would've been much funnier coming from Chappelle. The simple fact that his voice isn't on the commentary makes me think the producers should've just left this feature off of this release.

Next up are a series of ugly, 480i deleted scenes (actually just extensions that add little, but support the feeling of fleeting focus in the film), an alternate ending (worth a try and amusing for the most part), and a group of featurettes that go for a laugh but usually come away with nothing. "Five Minutes with The Guy on the Couch" is a boring five minutes staring at comedian Steven Wright laying on a couch, "Different Types of Smokers" is an animated rehash of one of the more memorable scenes in the feature film, and "Granny's Guide to Baking" is a cooking show of sorts that banks on the old stable of the elderly doing medicinal marijuana. Take a look if you're a huge fan of the film, but skip these anemic excuses for extras unless you're out of Ambien and trying to fall asleep fast.

In the end, 'Half Baked' is an average comedy with an above average cast and writing team (particuarly Chappelle in case I haven't sufficiently shouted that from the rooftops). However, most of the film kept me distracted with memories of how great "The Chappelle Show" actually was and I found myself severely missing the poignant political and social commentary present in every episode. Luckily, fans of 'Half Baked' will rejoice in a top notch video presentation that brightens up any home theater and be proud to shell out a few extra bucks for the best package 'Half Baked' will likely receive.