How High (2001)


The blissful friendship of Method Man and Redman is the stuff of legend. Though they started their careers as members of different groups — Meth in the redoubtable Wutang Clan and Redman, briefly, in EPMD’s Hit Squad — their coming together has since seemed like some weird kind of destiny. These adorable scamps are always making hilarious fun of someone or something, always puffing on some huge blunt, always reveling in the privilege that comes with stardom and adulation. They like who they are and what they do, at least on camera. Who can forget Meth’s confession in the documentary Backstage, that he that likes to put peanuts in his nose and blow them back out into the bag so some unsuspecting soul will eat the nose-gooed morsels? Or in the same film, Redman’s invitation to the interviewer to lean in close, in order to hear his “nuts talk”?

But even amid all this good fun, 30-year-old Method Man and 29-year-old Redman have been forging a solid career as a performing duo. They tour, they clown (and have been compared to Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello), they recorded a cd (Blackout!). And now, they’ve made a movie, directed by Jesse Dylan, other son of Bob, and titled How High (after one of Redman’s popular singles) and plainly modeled on the Cheech and Chong aesthetic. The film opens — so very appropriately — with Cypress Hill’s “Hit from the Bong” (“I love you maryjane!”) as you meet Silas (Method Man), an exceptionally well-organized dope dealer. He keeps his apartment stocked with weed for every occasion — aphrodisiacs, painkillers, cures for limp dicks and blue balls — and is clearly one of the most popular fellows on his block.

Still, Silas might do better for himself, or at least that’s the idea put in his head by his best friend Ivory (Chuck Davis), right before the poor kid lights himself on fire and falls out the window, only to be smooshed by a bus. When Silas sprinkles dead Ivory’s ashes into a pot plant (in respectful commemoration, of course), Ivory returns as a ghost, ready to help Silas be smarter than he ever thought he could be. Before Silas takes his college entrance exams, he smokes a pep-up joint out in the parking lot. And wouldn’t you know? Up drives Jamal (Redman), who happens to be taking those same exams. It’s clear from first toke that he and Silas are meant for each other. After such inspiration, their exams are brilliant, so much so that soon, every college around is recruiting them. For the sake of argument, assume that Harvard is a reasonable choice, and there you have the film’s premise — two fun-loving, self-confident, completely charming potheads go to Harvard.

This point of departure is not so different from the summer’s surprise hi, Legally Blonde, in which Reese Witherspoon goes to law school despite all odds against her femme personality and love of fashion, where she teaches her snotty classmates and profs a few things about common sense and courtesy. (That film was, by the way, a surprise hit, and everyone thought it cute and inoffensive.) In the case of Redman and Method Man, however, plot is decidedly unimportant, and morality even less so. There are no lessons here, just cutting up and messing around. Yes, the two interlopers shake up the status quo, but only because said quo wants to be shook. Thus, the crew coach (Hector Elizondo) is looking for a way to upstage his obnoxious, bigheaded charges. Jamal’s request to join the team is just what he’s been hoping for. Within minutes, coach is wearing his baseball cap backwards and his sweatpants with one leg rolled up, happily chowing down on chips when called on the carpet by Dean Cain (Obba Babatunde). A few scenes later, the uptight dean is getting rather down himself, after unknowingly downing a batch of pot-laced brownies.

Silas and Jamal’s fellow students are, for the most part, thrilled to have them around, including the silent I Need Money (Hits From the Street‘s Al Shearer) and the U.S. Vice President’s daughter, Jamie (Essence Atkins): the film never explains how the VP (Jeffrey Jones) is white and she’s black, but it clearly doesn’t matter to anyone on screen. Silas, of course, also finds a girl, the straight-A student Lauren (Lark Voorhies), who happens to be involved with the perpetually tense and hypercompetitive crew captain Bart (Chris Elwood). Naturally, she’s more than happy to kick it with the superbly laid back Silas.

Meth is, as always, an exceedingly charismatic presence, and his partner an able comic foil. In their joint MTV Diary, Meth describes their ineffable chemistry: “I got chocolate, he got peanut butter, and we crash into each other.” The guy has mad skills, plainly. So what if the film is straight-up ridiculous, with stupid pimp and hoochie jokes, right alongside the commendable observations that class hierarchies are unpleasant and unfair, and meritocracies (especially traditional ones, like the structure at Harvard) tend to be based on subjective and system-sustaining evaluations.

How High doesn’t spend much time making these points. It’s more concerned with the good times rolling. During the same Diary episode, Redman complains about having to answer repeated questions concerning the movie’s “message.” You can understand his frustration. It’s not like anyone involved has ever pretended that How High is about anything other than what it is, a raucous pothead movie. And that’s frankly more fun and less strained than most any portion of Not Another Teen Movie.

But it might also get you wondering about just where and how revolution — in class organizations, social value judgments, or academic insularities — might occur. If a movie like How High appears to re-present the “problems” that outsiders (those who won’t see the film) imagine in what might be called, for lack of a better term, weed culture, then how might outsiders be educated to accept difference? By the same token, if the movie grants some riotous, carnivalesque upending of tiresome conventions and expectations, allowing insiders (those who will see the film) some pleasure at the expense of those they perceive as outsiders, then how might there ever be a meeting of minds across inside and outside? It could be, of course, that such a meeting is impossible, that the combined generational, classed, and cultural differences at stake are too entrenched to warrant anyone’s effort to bridge them.

How High isn’t even the film that needs to answer any of these questions, of course. But it’s worth interrogating the “ghettoization” process, that is, how films are conceived, marketed, and categorized so that niche audiences find what they want and others look elsewhere. It’s completely likely that Meth, at least, and probably Redman too, will have acting careers if they want them (not unlike Snoop, Ice Cube, or Ice T before them). Meth, for example, has a seductive presence and ease on screen that will allow him to cross over wherever he wants. That he’s so far remaining so close to his roots, so overtly fond of his friends, and so faithful to his fans’ expectations, suggests that it may not be too much to hope that someday, the industry will adjust to the talents and interests of its players, rather than vice versa.