It’s doubtful that we were in need of an African-American version of a Cheech and Chong drug- themed comedy, but that’s what writer Dustin Lee Abraham and neophyte director Jesse Dylan have chosen to serve up (as a Christmas gift, no less) in “How High.” The movie stars two hip-hop headliners, Method Man and Redman, as Silas and Jamal, a couple of cool dudes from the New Jersey projects who ace the college entrance exam as the result of smoking some dope from a plant fertilized with the ashes of a deceased buddy named Ivory (Chuck Davis). (It seems that Ivory’s ghost appears to them when they puff the weed and gives them all the answers, consorting as he does with the spirits of very knowledgeable people.) The two are quickly invited to enroll at Harvard, where they have lots of gross and farcical adventures before they link up with the girls they’ve been pursuing while succeeding in their studies (largely as a result of the potency of the drugs they constantly use) and outwitting every troublesome guy in sight (of whatever race).
This is hardly an inspiring tale; its unremitting coarseness and utterly amoral attitude will be excruciating for most viewers to sit through. (The street slang is so pervasive, moreover, that unless you’ve very fluent in it, you’ll sometimes feel like you’re watching a foreign-language film devoid of subtitles.) Still, the picture certainly has energy, and a fairly professional appearance, too (it’s certainly preferable to a crude home movie like “Pootie Tang”). The target audience will undoubtedly enjoy the fact that the lead duo unfailingly win against rich snobs, snooty administrators and everybody else they encounter through their nonchalant street attitude; others may find the contempt with which all authority figures and “uncool” folk are treated more than a little repulsive. (Obba Babatunde, for example, is repeatedly humiliated in the role of the uptight dean–oh so cutely named Dean Cain–who’s the boys’ nemesis, a sort of African- American version of the John Vernon character from “Animal House;” Fred Willard is embarrassingly broad as Harvard’s chancellor; Jeffrey Jones, playing the Vice-President of the U.S. in the final scene, looks understandably as though he’d prefer to be elsewhere; and as high- strung students T.J. Thyne, Chris Elwood and Justin Urich are subjected to every form of indignity. On the other hand, Hector Elizondo, Spalding Gray and Tracey Walter survive by coasting along as Harvard faculty who find the heroes delightfully anti-establishment.)
“How High” is a pretty terrible movie with a thoroughly terrible message. The level of vulgarity in it is appalling, and one can certainly castigate it for pandering shamelessly to its intended audience, too. The only compliment one can pay it is that on the purely technical side, it’s better than one might expect. But that’s hardly enough to make it recommendable.