Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical

Review by Kim Hollis

November 8, 2005

First Julie Benz, now Kristen Bell. What is the source of his power?

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In 1936, a little film called Reefer Madness hit theaters. It warned viewers of the many evils of partaking of marijuana, as the characters in the film find their lives shattered by falling under its influence. Now viewed as a silly cult flick with outrageous claims, the movie spawned an Off-Broadway musical by Kevin Murphy (who also happened to create a little television series called Desperate Housewives). The subject matter was so fun, it has now been recreated as a movie musical that originally aired on Showtime. It's available on DVD today, and if you love good, campy stuff like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's very worth checking out.

The story centers on two key characters. Mary Lane (Veronica Mars's Kristen Bell) is a sweet, innocent young girl living in the good ol' red, white and blue USA of the 1930s. She meets a charming boy named Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell), and the two embark on a happy relationship amidst study of Romeo and Juliet, which of course causes them to break into song. Such an ideal existence can't continue, though, because Jimmy soon finds himself lured into the dark world of marijuana consumption by pusher Jack Stone (Steven Weber). Despite warnings from friends and Jesus himself (Robert Torti), Jimmy can't resist the delicious high he experiences when he's "on the stuff". Tragedy ensues.

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is colorful, hilarious and constantly a blast. It mostly succeeds thanks to the outstanding performances of the various actors in the film. Kristen Bell, who you ought to be watching on Veronica Mars if you aren't already, is bubbly and upbeat as Mary Lane (though when it comes time for her to be oh so naughty, it's just as impossible to resist her). Christian Campbell, who originated the Jimmy role in the stage musical, is just terrific as Jimmy. When his marijuana smoking transforms him, his facial expressions and voice tones are spot on.

The fun doesn't stop with the lead performers, though. Alan Cumming is the narrator of the tale, which is elaborated via a town meeting where he warns the residents of the evils of the malevolent weed. He's smarmy and dismissive, precisely what the role needs. Ana Gasteyer is shockingly amazing in her role as Jack Stone's girlfriend, a woman who is hopelessly addicted but can't let go. John Kassir (aka Mr. Julie Benz) is creepy and outrageous as one of the people who hangs out at the pusher's place, smoking dope constantly. And Robert Torti is simply superlative for the Jesus role, which he also had in the stage musical. Christian Campbell's sister Neve even puts in a cute appearance where her dancing skills are used very well.

Clearly the story is ridiculous, and that's pretty much the point. It's the songs that make the show, though, and the movie is just chock-full of earworms that are impossible to forget. From the opening strains of the theme song (Creeping like a Communist/It's knocking at our doors/Turning all our children into/Hooligans and whores/Voraciously devouring/The way things are today/Savagely deflowering/The good ol' USA) to the silliness of Shakespeare himself trying to tell the kids they've got it all wrong, the lyrics are intelligent and uproarious. You'll also be hard-pressed to forget "Listen to Jesus, Jimmy" anytime soon.

Like the reefer that is so addictive to the film's characters, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is a film musical fans will find themselves returning to again and again. It's precisely the sort of thing that could develop into a cult favorite.



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