December 20, 2004

Red Eyes on Showtime Over 'Reefer Madness'

by Cynthia Littleton

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Here's a prediction for 2005: Showtime is going to make some noise with its musical remake of an agitprop cinema classic, "Reefer Madness."

The Showtime movie is based on the "Reefer Madness" stage musical that was first mounted in Hollywood in 1999 and off-Broadway in 2001. The original team from the stage production -- director Andy Fickman, lyricist Kevin Murphy and composer Dan Studney -- have reprised their roles for the movie and serve as its executive producers.

The contemporary "Reefer Madness" is wonderfully satiric, beautifully shot and unabashedly silly -- as ridiculously over the top as the original 1936 flick was in attempting to warn parents that marijuana was more addictive than heroin or cocaine. The new-model "Reefer Madness" does not even take its mission as satire too seriously, yet there are subtle bits of social commentary circa 2004 sprinkled throughout.

"This is ultimately a movie about questioning authority," Fickman says. "You could take the word 'reefer' out and put a lot of other contemporary issues in there, and it would work. It works especially well for the times we live in."

Murphy, who penned the lyrics and co-wrote the book with music maestro Studney, sees it as a cautionary tale about the dangers of those who resort to extreme scare tactics to promote a particular political or social agenda. ("Once that reefer has been destroyed/we'll start on Darwin and Sigmund Freud," is one of Murphy's lyrical zingers from the closing number.)

The original "Reefer" presented marijuana as "a threat to the American way of life" by stoking white America's fears of a changing society, Murphy says, noting how the original stresses that most of the demon weed comes from Mexico and is favored by jazz musicians and other degenerate types.

But all that said, the creative brain trust behind the musical "Reefer Madness" strove for laughs more than anything else. It's hard to do anything but laugh at a movie that serves up a Busby Berkeley-style dance number with men in pot leaf-emblazoned G-strings gyrating around a giant hookah.

The show-stopper of the piece is a dream sequence in which Jesus appears before our wayward hero Jimmy -- an all-American teenager, played by Christian Campbell, who turns into a raving nut after his first toke -- in an effort to set Jimmy back on the right path. ("I'm the face on the shroud of Turin/do I have to test your urine?" the son of God implores as Jimmy breaks into his church's collection box.)

Steven Weber wears his pencil-thin mustache well in the role of the gun-toting dealer who lures unsuspecting kids from the malt shop back to the crash pad of his hopelessly addicted girlfriend, Mae, played with gusto by Ana Gasteyer. And Alan Cumming steals every scene he's in as the deadpan federal agent who comes to town to screen "Reefer Madness" for parents at the local high school.

"Reefer Madness" is set to debut next month at the Sundance Film Festival and is expected to bow on Showtime in April. Fickman and Murphy credit Showtime entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt as the "angel" who allowed them to move beyond the limits of a stage and put their wildest visions on film.

"The show we produced was always too big for our stages," Fickman says.

Adds Murphy, "And Bob just had the blind faith that we always did that it would make a really good, really funny movie."



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