Filmmaker Ron Mann and actor/activist Woody Harrelson have followed up their hilarious 2000 documentary “Grass” with the equally amusing “Go Further.” While “Grass” – which could just as well have been titled “Reefer Sanity” – used humor to put over its scathing portrait of the U.S. Government’s endlessly misguided war on marijuana, “Go Further” generates laughs while teaching valuable lessons about how we can all, in small but significant ways, make the choice to “leave a light footprint” on our imperiled planet Earth.
You might have read about the event Mann chronicles in “Go Further”: a 2001 bus tour, from Seattle down to Los Angeles, with Harrelson and a band of like-minded folks along for the ride, spreading their message of “simple organic living” (the road trip was officially dubbed “The SOL Tour”). You might also have dismissed Harrelson as just another sun-and-spliff-damaged Hollywood buffoon. After all, the SOL Tour bus is decorated with rainbows and unicorns. Ever heard the joke about why California is like a box of cereal – it’s full of fruits, nuts and flakes?
In Harrelson’s case, however, you’d be wrong. Because good old Woody walks it – and runs it and bikes it – like he talks it. The SOL bus is fueled by biodiesel hemp oil, and Harrelson is fueled by pure enlightened knowledge. Laugh about the fact that he always travels with a raw-food chef and a yoga instructor – the film invites you to – but don’t doubt that Harrelson is as genuinely passionate and committed as they come. (Actually, look no further than the fact that this Oscar nominee has gladly sacrificed his career in such films as “Natural Born Killers,” “Indecent Proposal,” “Wag the Dog” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” – on the altar of full-time environmental activism.)
While it never hurts to have a celebrity along to grab attention, Harrelson is not the true star of this show. That would be Steve Clark, an L.A. production assistant Harrelson invited along, and to whom he very often cedes the spotlight. Steve, first seen eating junk food (French fries) and listening to junk music (Lenny Kravitz), is just the sort of All-American Everyman to lure the skeptics in. After Harrelson schools him on the evils of corporate dairy products, Steve innocently asks: “So is there blood and pus in my chocolate shake?” That’s typical of the way Mann is able to gently defuse any charges of “environmental extremism” with easygoing humor. Before too long, Steve is balancing his daily intake of weed and Snickers bars with wheat grass and spirulina. In one of the movie’s funniest bits, he even extols the delights of seaweed cookies to a pickup truck full of tweaked-out meth addicts.
“Go Further” incorporates wonderful music (Bob Weir, Anthony Kiedis, Natalie Merchant and Dave Matthews among others) and tasty little side trips – such as one to the late Ken Kesey’s farm in Oregon, where Kesey displays the rotten remains of Further, the Merry Pranksters’ bus from their mid-‘60s adventures – but Mann never lets us forget the seriousness of his film’s message. Often, that simply boils down to taking responsibility for one’s impact on the environment. It’s the “small, personal transformations” which mean more than anything. In Harrelson’s wise words, “Put your money where your values are.”
Of course, the Rush Limbaughs of the world would have a heart attack when confronted by the simple logic laid down in “Go Further.” But then, they don’t really live on the planet Earth anyway, do they?