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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Kid Cannabis’ is more than a pipe dream

You may have missed the Magic Lantern's special advanced screening on Wednesday of the film "Kid Cannabis." If so, you might be happy to know that the film is opening for a full run today at the Lantern. And if you want some more information, you might want to read the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

The review follows:

Movies about life lessons learned hard have been a cinema staple since Gibson Gowland coldcocked Zazu Pitts in the 1924 silent film “Greed.” These days, hard-knock studies are a virtual genre of their own, what with serio-comic works by Michael Bay (“Pain & Gain”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”).

Now comes the little film “Kid Cannabis,” which sounds like a cross between “Porky’s” and “Up in Smoke.” Actually, though, it’s a reality-based exploration of what happens when young men – whose only other career options, we are told, are name tags and $4.25 an hour – set themselves up as marijuana dealers and stumble into a world of riches. And danger. Here’s a hint: Things don’t end serio-comically.

Opening this weekend at the Magic Lantern Theater, “Kid Cannabis” – which is a ridiculous title – is based on a magazine article that Spokane journalist Kevin Taylor wrote in 2005 for the Pacific Northwest Inlander. Directed by John Stockwell, it focuses on Nate Norman and Topher Clark, two Coeur d’Alene friends who were tired of wearing those afore-mentioned name tags and collecting minimum wage.

As Norman, portrayed by actor Jonathan Daniel Brown, says in voiceover, “In Coeur d’Alene, there was money all around but always out of reach, teasing, taunting, just laughing at you for thinking you were going to get your hands on any of it.”

Then Norman reads an article in High Times magazine that changes everything. Convinced that treasure could be found across the border in Canada, Norman and Clark decide to head north and buy some legendary B.C. Bud, said to be the sweetest smoke in creation – and worth millions. They know if they can score, and get the product back home safely, they can do some taunting of their own.

After a rough start, in which they buy pot that smells as if it had “been sitting in some dude’s basement for three years,” they develop a dependable source, find some financial backing, organize a team of smugglers – and pretty soon they are making money. Then big money. Then so much money they get careless. And … well, you can guess what happens next.

Taylor, the author of the original Inlander article, admits that director Stockwell’s script “compressed, distorted, (and) invented” things that occurred. But more than a little remains authentic – including the youth of Norman and his team, the border-running in camo-costumes, the wild buying sprees and the murder of a competitor, not to mention the ultimate come-uppance that everyone experiences.

And though burdened with a small budget, reportedly in the $2.5 million range, Stockwell managed to attract a decent cast. Besides Brown as Norman and Kenny Wormald as Clark, “Kid Cannabis” features the presence of such veterans as Ron Perlman, John C. McGinley and Amanda Tapping.

In the end, Stockwell served both them and his viewing audience well by forging an intensely watchable movie. It’s hardly the quality of Scorsese, and it doesn’t have the flash of Bay. But “Kid Cannabis” – there’s that lame title again – does serve up a decent life lesson.

One that even Zazu Pitts would have understood.