Jonathan Daniel Brown hopes to jump forward with his acting career as the drug dealing lead in John Stockwell’s Kid Cannabis. It’s a big move for the actor who was predominately seen last as the plump sidekick in the repugnant Project X. As much as I would like to respond to Brown’s flick with utter positivity, Kid Cannabis’ shortcomings have me feeling disappointed.
Brown plays Nate Norman, a blameless pothead who was inspired to take to the life of selling and trafficking marijuana after seeing his mother struggle to make financial ends meet. The operation starts small with Norman and best friend Topher (played by Footloose’s Kenny Wormald) testing the waters with crossing the Canadian border, which brings about plenty of routine vehicle and cavity searches.
Once a plan is created, the boys have themselves running a business. Their team of “runners” increases and Norman’s authoritative attitude gets more controlling in a Zuckerburgian way. However, he still struggles with playing a leader amongst a group of tougher looking individuals.
Kid Cannabis is based on a true story, but plays out as another movie where unlikely people find themselves sinking in a field of corruption and illegal activity. What starts out as a moneymaking thrill with accessible amounts of “the good stuff” and topless girls gets heavier as other variables enter the mix – including another competitive, violent dealer.
Though some plot points seem a bit too convenient, I believe Stockwell is telling this story as true as he can (he’s adapted the screenplay from Mark Binelli’s article about Norman’s illegalities). The film is wanting our lead drug dealers to come off as inexperienced novices when it comes to selling their product. Ironically, the amateur actors and the filmmaker have a hard time selling the audience on why they should believe in the performances.
Most deliveries that Brown and his company fire off don’t sound organic enough to sound like this pack is serious about what they do. Either the lines have been written in a way to sound “cool” – including plenty of tough-sounding analogies in Brown’s cringing narration – or the actors don’t understand the motivation behind what they’re saying. Most of these occurrences may be throwaway pieces of dialogue, but they add up quickly.
Stockwell can’t decide if he’s making a straight dramatic non-fiction or wanting to make a movie that’s peppered with dark comedy; much like how last year’s Pain & Gain tired to do the latter. Michael Bay’s comedy failed for me, but its morbid ambition impressed others.
Because of Stockwell’s indecisiveness, the movie has difficulty making the danger seem legit or alarming. Stockwell showed a different kind of filmmaker’s confusion with last month’s In The Blood, but at least there were instances where we felt Gina Carano’s desperation when trying to find her missing husband. The riskiness eventually gets more worrisome in Kid Cannabis‘ final third, but misguided acting and thin screenwriting end up intercepting any emotional connection.
Kid Cannabis didn’t work for me, but it didn’t leave me wishing the film hadn’t existed. I’m hoping this acts as another stepping stone to further Brown’s career where another filmmaker with more cohesive visions sees potential for this persistent bloke.