Terrific, campy movie musicals don’t come around very often. How many films have been able to emulate the success of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show?” How many have even tried? “Reefer Madness” is about the closest any film has come to capturing the bizarre spirit of that cult classic. A film version of the Off-Broadway production, “Reefer” is the outrageous musical version of the old public education film warning parents of the “effects” of marijuana on impressionable teenagers. Only such a ridiculous blunder in our country’s drug-ed history could warrant a ridiculous musical and Showtime fits it with the trappings of a cult favorite.
What makes “Reefer” and other campy musicals work is the undercurrent of pure talent in the film. This is not a “so bad it’s good” movie; there’s actual intelligence in it. From the actors to the choreography to a plot that would surprise you with how compelling it is, brains went into this play and consequently this film. The music is catchy from swing to jazz to rock with all other kinds of influences. Alan Cumming as the film’s in-frame narrator plays his devious brainwashing character with sharp subtlety, cleverly appearing throughout the film as various different background characters. Comics from SNL vet Ana Gasteyer to voice artist John Kassir give the film the wacky edge it needs to be a hit.
Starting off in a classroom with parents all wanting to learn about the marijuana, the story then launches into a film which Cumming’s character shows about two teenage lovers (Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell), whose lives are fated do be destroyed by the reefer. Jimmy, the boy, wants desperately to impress Mary Lane after their smashing duet about ending up like Romeo & Juliet … however that play ends. He can’t dance, however, and agrees to go home with a stranger, Jack Stone (Steven Weber) who promises to give him lessons though he only intends to get him hooked on weed like the other misfits in his cannabis- growing house: Ralph (Kassir) the college dropout, Sally the seductress who sells off her baby for dope money and the girlfriend Jack abuses, Mae (Gasteyer).
Jimmy becomes addicted after a rhythmic musical number entitled “Jimmy Takes a Hit/The Orgy” and his life spirals out of control. Although he realizes he cares most about Mary Lane, his junkie friends keep him on a path of trouble. He won’t even listen to Jesus despite a persuasive ’60s rock-style number.
It takes a true musical-lover to really get into the camp and silliness of “Reefer Madness,” but it’s one of the better recent movie musicals out there as nowadays they tend to be very hit or miss. The satire, the gore, the nutty characters, the ensemble members pretending to fornicate with their clothes on because after all, this is a 1930s film — it’s easy to get a kick out of this one-of-a-kind movie that should undoubtedly get its own cult following.
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)
Directed by Andy Fickman
Written by Kevin Murphy, Dan Studney
Starring: Christian Campbell, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer