Movie Reviews: How High (2001)

Part 1 – Enter the Wu-Tang
Part 2 – The First Batch of Solo Albums
Part 3 – Wu-Tang Forever
Part 4 – The Second Batch of Solo Albums (Part 1)
Part 5 – The Second Batch of Solo Albums (Part 2)
Part 6 – The W

Starting with the song “How High“, Method Man and Redman became a frequent pairing for years after.  Their collaborations ultimately led to 1999’s hit album Blackout!, a fun if not particularly deep album.  Above all else, they had a natural chemistry in style even beyond their names (which go so well together that as a kid I thought it was intentional).  It was hardly shocking then that the two of them would extend their mainstream appeal beyond simply making music together into something else.  Also, unsurprisingly considering the two, it was a film based around their shared passion for weed.

By 2001, Method Man had already established himself as an occasional actor having appeared in 187, the surprisingly solid Cop Land, the Hype Williams joint Belly, Black & White (As himself), and a few episodes of Oz.  Redman on the other hand had a far less compelling filmography with appearances in little regarded and long forgotten films like Ride, Colorz of Rage, and Boricua’s Bond (which Meth also appeared in).  It’s a discrepancy that becomes very apparent in the movie as it becomes quickly clear why Meth has gone onto a respectable career (arguably more impressive than his rapping career in that span) as a character actor since while Redman has certainly not.

How High was modestly successful at release though an absolute failure when it came to critical reviews.  It’s gained a bit of a reputation since as one of the definitive stoner films, but considering the general quality of such titles, that’s more of an indictment than anything else.  After curiously opening with a Cypress Hill song (albeit an appropriate one in “Hits from a Bong“) instead of something actually by the duo, the film quickly gets to establishing the story.  Meth is working a weed dealer out of his apartment, selling the herb that he grows out of his apartment.  His friend wants him to apply himself and get a job in a real lab instead of the home one he’s got (and which he uses in his weed business).  Redman on the other hand is still living at home and going to Community College (for six years though the idea that someone would go to a community college for six years is utterly ridiculous and I can’t imagine any other piece of media trying to get away with it) where he is being pressured by his mom to finally graduate and take entrance exams.

Meth’s friend (played by Chuck Deezy who the closest thing to a prominent acting role since is recurring on Mike Tyson Mysteries), who pointlessly has some weird looking hair in between his eyebrows in the kind of “joke” that was all sorts of prevalent in the era of film, dies when his fake dreads (which he put on for a date and unsurprisingly helped hurt his chances) catch fire from a joint as he falls asleep, runs out the window, plummets to the ground, and finally gets hit by a bus.  As is only natural, Meth mixes the ashes of his dead friend into some soil which he then grows weed in.  At the Testing for Higher Credentials, Meth and Red meet in an adorable meet cute with Meth needing a blunt to smoke his weed (the aforementioned dead friend blend) in and Red needing some more weed.

That weed has some unexpected side effects when Meth starts seeing the ghost of his friend after smoking it up.  While odd enough of an occurrence, since his friend was incredibly smart, the two now have a ghost buddy to help them get perfect scores on their tests. While making them attractive candidates to all sorts of schools, the most compelling pitch comes from Fred Willard representing Harvard who’s looking for more minorities at his school (specifically to get the people complaining off his back).  It’s a remarkably complex backstory just to get them into Harvard and to set up the rest of the film’s fish out of water style comedy.

It’s exactly the kind of film you’d expect with Meth and Red raising hell while drawing the ire of a black teacher/dean who didn’t want them at the school, a volunteer officer (played by the obnoxious dude from Bones, real specific, I know), and the stuck-up white members of a crew team.  They also room with a dorky white man and an Asian stereotype trying to fit in.  The race jokes as a whole aren’t great between their roommate, another stereotype in their RA, and the overwhelming sense that they have all been written by someone very white which is a shame and hard to look past.

They actually wind up pretty well accepted by most of the people there despite their frequently annoying antics as they mess with people around the campus, specifically the people who annoy them.  That general level of acceptance allows the film to focus more on them messing around and smoking.  Meth does take to his studies more seriously despite the way he got in and reveals himself as a genuine genius when it comes to botany.  Redman on the other hand mostly slacks, though he does take up crew (if mostly to just prove he’s better than the jocks).

The comedy is mostly incredibly lame, but there is a charm to it at times.  Meth is the far more natural actor while Redman struggles through the film especially when he is away from his partner in crime.  The supporting cast is surprisingly loaded considering the premise and stars.  Tracy Morgan in a Field of Dreams parody!  Judah Friedlander (30 Rock) sighting!  Spalding Gray!  Noted sex offender Jeffrey Jones…  Obba Babatundé (as the Dean), Mike Epps, Héctor Elizondo (as a crew coach taken in with Redman’s antics and who I doubt will be using this film in a highlight reel of his career), Saved by the Bell‘s Lark Voorhies, and Garrett Morris!  Also, don’t forget Cypress Hill as themselves.

While I was a bit disappointed by the lack of tracks from the two stars, the film does wisely lean into its quality collection of mainstream rap tracks to support itself.  It’s also a film that surprisingly does have the outlines of a classic stoner film.  I fully expected it to be completely terrible with it premise, the non-actor stars, and the director of the execrable American Wedding and Kicking & Screaming at the helm (Bob Dylan’s kid who wasn’t responsible for The Wallflowers).  Instead, largely thanks to Meth’s efforts and general storyline, I was left almost disappointed because it felt like a film that was somebody competent writing and behind the camera away from being a fun, weirdo (likely still stupid, but in a more endearing way) film.  The two would later costar in the TV series Method & Red, a show which was cancelled during its first and only season and which I may get to at a later date.

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Just the songs used in the movie would have made for a fascinating compilation soundtrack (who wouldn’t want to see Rammstein share space on an album with Parliament and Outkast?), but quite a few of the tracks don’t appear on it.  Instead, the album is largely a Method Man and Redman collaboration with a couple additional tracks on it.  Of those four, two are understandable coming from the typical collaborators (Meth’s buddy Streetlife and Redman’s Saukrates), but DMX’s “Party Up” and Ludacris/Shawna’s “What’s Your Fantasy” are less obvious (though both being great songs).  Besides those two songs, the album goes heavy on previously released tracks with the back half being a sketch away from entirely so (from each solo, together, Saukrates, and even Meth’s inexplicable collaboration with Limp Bizkit).  Still that leaves seven new tracks and three new skits which is not nothing.

The skits are unsurprisingly worthless film excerpts, but the songs are mostly worthwhile additions to their canon.  The sequel to the title song, the Erick Sermon produced “Part II” is a fun if not especially memorable and Toni Braxton sampling track.  The remix of Jonell’s “Round and Round” featuring Method Man is a solid crossover song.  The WAR sampling “Cisco Kid” featuring Cypress Hill and with production from Rockwilder (who handled the music for the movie) is perhaps the best new track and one that blends the strengths of all three together into a big party joint.  “America’s Most“, on the other hand, tries to craft a party track and comes out with something fairly bland while “Let’s Do It” serves as a better pairing of the two stars over a quality hook.  The final track from either of the two is Redman’s self-produced “We Don’t No How 2 Act“, a pretty typical song from him but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (and a title which is accurate for him).

The new Streetlife track feels a bit out of place as it shows its roots as a lesser Wu-Tang style track (produced by frequent Wu-Tang producer Allah Mathematics), but it’s fine as a song.  While I know it is a reused track, I know I won’t ever get a chance to talk about it and Saukrate’s “Fine Line” exhibits the opposite problem in that it fits better but is far less my thing (and certainly closer to Redman in style).  The album as a whole is good, but I’ll admit that you’d get far more use out of it as a compilation CD (at a time when that mattered).  The new tracks as I said before fit well into their libraries, but they aren’t exactly top tier efforts and lack a definitive song.

Tune in three weeks from today as I will hopefully be taking a look at the next group album from the Wu-Tang Clan as well as a couple solo releases and in the following months, we will continue through the rest of their albums and the work of a select few of the countless Wu-Tang Clan affiliates.