My friend Sam (he of crazy Arizona stadium food fame) posed a question to me over the weekend about a favorite movie from our college days.
Why does Half Baked hold up so well?
The movie is now 17+ years old and, by all rights, it should join so many of the other comedies of its era in feeling extremely dated. (See: Pie, American and Me, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged.)
But it doesn't. I rewatched it yesterday for the first time in years, and he was absolutely right -- that thing still works just as well as it did a generation ago. I believe there are three factors at play:
1. It's really well written.
Writing a good, dumb comedy is a highly underrated art form and requires extremely smart people. Dave Chappelle and Neil Brennan's script is outstanding. The comedy bits are classics (the $8 date, the Guy on the Couch and even the "different kinds of smokers" are all standouts) -- but the story is also structured really well. There's dramatic irony, a ticking clock and "real" stakes in an absurd story.
Beyond the writing, it also captured Dave Chappelle at his comedy peak -- plus Jim Breuer at his best, Guillermo Diaz perfectly cast, and frequent but high quality and non-overbearing cameos.
But... while the writing and performances are crucial, the next two items here are intangibles that are far, far, far harder to replicate.
2. The stoner movie genre has been shockingly dormant.
I like superhero movies -- but my excitement about them is rapidly waning. This summer there's a new superhero movie roughly every two weeks. I can't keep up, they all blend together, patterns start emerging and it weakens the genre as a whole.
Stoner movies -- which I'll define as movies where weed is the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems -- have been few and far between in the almost-two decades since Half Baked. The only two prominent stoner movies of the past 17 years? Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Pineapple Express. (With honorable mention going to How High.) That's the entire list.
The genre has been so undersaturated -- even as marijuana has made INSANE leaps in mainstream acceptance over the timespan -- that it's still fresh to see these guys scheming and smoking and scheming and smoking.
That's a HUGE factor in Half Baked's enduring freshness. But there's one more thing that has an even stronger impact.
3. Dave Chappelle fell off the map.
After Half Baked, Chappelle's stand-up career started blowing up, which culminated with Chappelle's Show in 2003. Everyone knows the story from there: It was a revolutionary cultural force, became one of the biggest shows in the country... then Chappelle had a meltdown and all but disappeared for good.
Sure, he pops up now and then, but, by and large, Dave Chappelle was on pace to be the biggest comedy star in the world and said, "Nah."
He hasn't starred in a movie vehicle since Half Baked and he, most likely, never will (unless he does a Birdman thing eventually). And, above all else, that's why the movie endures.
Imagine Swingers if Vince Vaughn hadn't gone on to play the same character in 30 future movies. Imagine Arrested Development if Michael Cera had vanished afterward. Imagine Billy Madison if Adam Sandler had retired afterward. Imagine Talladega Nights without Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro. This list can go on forever, and it will continue to. You can't reasonably expect anyone to stop making movies when they're on top.
Chappelle's the only guy who did. And, in the process, the movie remains the lone monument to his film acting career AND his unique voice as a comedy writer.
He's a one-hit wonder... but what a hit.
This post was originally published on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Movies.