Mocking the message of the hysterical anti-marijuana film “Tell Your Children” would seem old hat. Audiences have been getting stoned and laughing along to the antics of those reefer-crazed hep cats for decades, so it’s a little surprising that Andy Fickman would bring his award-winning musical based upon the film to the big screen. Could Fickman capture the spirit of the stage production?
The answer, resoundingly, is “yes.” “Reefer Madness” is outstanding, both as a tweak on the mindset of those who would protect our children from the demon weed and as a wry commentary on the attitude of the current Administration, which – unsurprisingly – turns out to be not much different from that of the 1930s.
From the opening musical number, which uses the living dead to serve as examples of the dangers of marijuana, you know you’re venturing into some very strange territory. Alan C*****g plays the government agent screening “Tell Your Children” for the horrified townspeople, and the entire film is framed around this exhibition and town’s reaction. Even better, those citizens who call the legitimacy of C*****g’s claims that pot is more addictive than heroin or that smoking one “reefer stick” could cause a young girl to turn into a dominatrix have their patriotism called into question.
The film is the tale of Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell), upstanding student and model of the community, and Mary Lane (Kristin Bell), his best gal and latest in a line of fine Christian breeding stock. They sing of their young love, comparing themselves to Romeo and Juliet (a play which neither has finished reading yet, of course). Everything seems to be going well until local pot supplier Jack (Steven Weber) convinces Jimmy to come back to his reefer den, home of women lounging around all day in negligees and jazz music that makes white women take off their clothes. Jimmy tries to resist, but in the end is unable to defy the siren call of the reefer. And frankly, if smoking pot made me see hot jungle babes like the ones in Jimmy’s initial smoke scene, I’d have to look into it.
Jimmy descends further and further into reefer madness, despite the intercessions of Mary as well as Jesus himself, who implores the young man to return to the fold in a Vegas-style production number that brings the house down and is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on screen in months.
“Reefer Madness” effectively skewers the panic surrounding anti-drug propaganda, especially in musical numbers sending up the many perversions marijuana leads us into, including robbing the collection box, showering with your own mother, and S&M. If there’s one weak point here, it’s that most people are already well aware of the inaccuracy of early anti-drug propaganda. No one denies that most of this information was incorrect, but fortunately for Fickman, he manages to take his ridicule to new heights.
Eventually, Mary is drawn into Jimmy’s web of sin, with tragic consequences. This sets the stage for a rousing finale, which includes the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Uncle Sam. From singing clams to zombies to lounge act Jesus, “Reefer Madness” truly has something for everyone. See it with your family.