Cautionary tale features a fictionalized and highly exaggerated take on the use of marijuana. A trio of drug dealers lead innocent teenagers to become addicted to "reefer" cigarettes by holding wild parties with jazz music.
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This film tells the tale of the Harper Affair, in which young Jimmy Harper finds his life of promise turn into a life of debauchery and murder thanks to the new drug menace marijuana. Along the way he receives help from his girlfriend Mary and Jesus himself, but always finds himself in the arms of the Reefer Man and the rest of the denizens of the Reefer Den. Written by
This film is so much better than the 1936 trash-fest that no mere comparison can do it justice. Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is a smart, funny, and well performed parody of American paranoia, using the original Reefer Madness plot as a launching point to satirize McCarthy, fundamentalism, race, and the obsession with privilege, wealth and 'breeding' which have so sadly marred our history.
Unlike the original, nearly everything in this production is done right. The likable characters are the good ones, and the villains are truly despicable. The addition of a decent set of amusing tunes helps to keep the plot moving along (one of the biggest failures of the original film was the inconsistent and often painfully drawn out plot), and the use of some talented Broadway players (Christian Campbell and Kristen Bell are particularly fun to watch) as well as a script guided by rational thought as opposed to ignorance (as was the case in 1936), all make this film unusually entertaining and funny (the author generally dislikes straight comedies and has very high standards for musicals).
(Sorry for all the parenthetical statements) Most of you are probably aware of the plot, so I will summarize what distinguishes this from the original rather than simply summarizing the film. This version of Reefer Madness is less a paranoid right-wing attack on marijuana use than an amusing musical which compares the pot-scares that inspired the original film in 1936 to McCarthyism, fundamentalism, racism and various other ethical pathologies America has faced in its history (and today). The film does not promote marijuana use, but does play up the absurdity of the arguments that make it appear to be more harmful than, for example, cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, etc - all of which have been or were, at one time, used by the drug's most vocal enemies.
Jimmy Harper, in his voyage from an all-American high school kid to a dope-fiend, meets Satan, Jesus, Joan of Arc, the undead, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt along the way, ending up in a lot of trouble with the law. Spurning his high school sweet heart and terrifying his family, Jimmy sinks deeper and deeper into a pot-crazed state of insatiable lust, violence and - of course - jazz. Finally, this version ends differently from the 1936 film - but I won't give away the conclusion.
For me, giving a musical comedy a 7 is some of the highest praise I can give (The Wizard of Oz, Tommy and Singin in the Rain get 9s), so, if you're into this kind of thing, you really should check this one out.
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