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Friday, June 10, 2016

SMOKED. -- DVD Review by Porfle

"Cash. Crops. Corpses. They all burn the same."  You'd expect a tagline such as this to grace the grimmest crime thriller you could think of--but a comedy?

Yes, if that comedy is the fast and furious SMOKED. (2012), which gives movies like GOODFELLAS and SCARFACE a run for their money in all the usual departments while also delivering enough genuine laughs and overall comic insanity to make you think you just inhaled some of the wacky weed referred to in its title.

The three unscrupulous but likable protagonists--Ace, the "brains" of the trio (Geoff Trenchard), Filipino fireplug Smalls (Rupert Estanislao), and red-haired slacker Jimmy James (Jamie Dewolf)--just moved in together but, during their housewarming party, find their one pitiful pot plant stolen and their new house set ablaze.  With various lawsuits and other legal actions pending against them, the cash-strapped losers decide to dress up as cops and hold up an Oakland Cannabis Club of all its cash and medicinal marijuana.

The bad part is, the place is owned by ultra-ruthless drug kingpin Tyrone Shank (L. Abdul Kenyatta), who makes PULP FICTION'S Marcellus Wallace look like Mister Rogers.  Tyrone is proud of his empire ("I got mo' bitches working my fields than Thomas Jefferson") and doesn't appreciate being robbed, so he unleashes his most horrific hitmen against our three heroes--namely, the Four Horsemen, led by a giggling, sadistic Asian named Smiley (Jaylee Alde).

It takes a while for SMOKED. to come together and really start transcending its rock-bottom budget (which would seem to be around the level of an EL MARIACHI), but the amusingly-staged weed heist kickstarts the action and laughs into high gear.  The film's already brisk pace takes off like a rocket sled once the prolonged chase gets under way, with the Four Horsemen pursuing the main characters all over Oakland by car, rail, or on foot.  (Smiley steals a little girl's bicycle at one point and wobbles away as she runs after him with a plastic sword.)

Several variations of the standard chase are mined for all the fun and excitement that writer Jamie Dewolf (who plays Jimmy James) can wring out ot it.  There are some laugh-out-loud funny touches such as an inept ninja (one of the lesser Horsemen) trying to be inconspicuous in his furtive pursuit of Smalls and making a spectacle of himself instead.

A bratty little girl won't tell Smiley where Jimmy James went unless he can solve her riddle, even when he waves his gun in her face ("My daddy has a bigger gun than that").  A very large black woman with a pit bull, finding the two men in her backyard and believing them to be a gay couple having a lover's spat, forces them to hug and make up while invoking Oprah.

But even as it makes us laugh, this middle section of SMOKED. is loaded with a series of harrowing fights involving guns, knives, charcoal-starting fluid, even fists, with the same graphic, bloody violence you'd expect from Scorcese or DePalma.

Rather than just filling the screen with a bunch of random whip-pans and shaky-cam, co-directors Dewolf and Joshua Staley display considerable imagination with their use of the camera.  There's a smooth combination of slow motion and inventive angles and editing, all of it wildly creative, and it all just keeps coming at you with more oddball situations and eye-dazzling action.   This is high-octane visual storytelling with style to burn and is often exhilarating.

After all that comes a bit of a lull in the action as the boys try to sell their ill-gotten goods to some different but equally dangerous hoods while Tyrone and Smiley go about eliminating any competitors who may have been behind the cannabis heist (in a sequence replete with yet more cheerfully deranged sadism).  The trail leads them to a hip hop club where Ace, Smalls, and Jimmy James are celebrating.  Thus begins an incredible shootout in the darkened club with bursts of gunfire serving as strobe lights to eerie effect.

This spoof of all the ultra-gritty urban crime thrillers and tales-from-tha-hood dramas takes all the same shocking elements--drugs, crime, extreme profanity, and graphic violence, along with plenty of nudity--and shoots them up with a dose of high-grade comedy.  Above-average performances from the entire cast help to sell it, while an exceptional musical score filled with hip hop songs and stirring action cues drives it all along.

The DVD from Indican Pictures is widescreen with 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a cast and crew commentary, trailer, and two deleted scenes.

Ultimately, the story is as unsentimental as it is unflinchingly violent, and ends on a melancholy note that lends the whole affair an unexpected sense of gravitas.  Yet taken as a whole, SMOKED. is a hoot and a half--at times it's almost insanely fun to watch.  Never "so bad it's good" or just accidentally good here and there, SMOKED is sharp, smart filmmaking with real talent and imagination making entertaining things happen.

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