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‘Your Highness’ to ‘Up in Smoke’: Pot movie highlights for 4/20

By Glenn Whipp, Special to the Los Angeles Times

As 4/20 comes around once again, it’s as good a time as any to honor cinema’s under-celebrated legacy of pot on film and celebrate just how far it’s come.

“Your Highness”, in theaters now, isn’t just any stoner comedy. It’s a medieval-fantasy-romance stoner comedy starring this year’s Academy Award-winning lead actress Natalie Portman and lead actor nominee/show co-host James Franco, who, coincidentally or not, was assumed by some to be completely baked during the Oscar broadcast.

So, even without seeing questing knights Danny McBride and Franco passing the pipe and “sharing a vision” with a freaky-looking puppet, you know “Your Highness” is blazing a trail far, far away from the days when the 1936 cautionary anti-weed camp classic “Reefer Madness” warned of the dangers (Infidelity! Murder! Hot jazz!) awaiting those who puff the magic dragon.

Yes, cannabis cinema has come a long way. Let’s look at the recent highlights (or lowlights, if you are not inclined to celebrate 4/20 as if it were a national holiday).

Photos: Stoner Cinema

Photo: Natalie Portman, left, Danny McBride, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel in “Your Highness.” Credit: Frank Connor / Universal Pictures / MCT ()
Authenticity: Cheech and Chong usher in the hemp movement, smuggling a van made entirely from grass (a.k.a. fiberweed) across the border. And, no, we don’t think that burrito-sized joint they shared was an exaggeration of their everyday reality.

Stoned-track: War’s “Low Rider” and other mellow California funk.

Place in pot culture: The first and, for many, the best stoner comedy, though clearly from the movie’s look and pacing, everyone involved was fried while making it. And, yet, it was the ninth most popular movie of the year. Can we get a smiley face for the ‘70s?

Photo: Tommy Chong, left, and Cheech Marin in “Up in Smoke.” Credit: Paramount ()
Authenticity: Following more than a decade of just saying no, Richard Linklater‘s film puts pot back in the movies by going back to (yes) the ‘70s. From the opening montage of high-schoolers sparking up to celebrate the last day of school to the final meeting of the “joint sub-committee” on the football field’s 50-yard-line, “Dazed and Confused” more than lives up to its title, chronicling the wasted days and wasted nights of a group of teens in a small Texas town.

Stoned-track: Aerosmith, long before kids started asking the identity of that lady sitting next to Jennifer Lopez on “American Idol.”

Place in pot culture: Ron Slater’s (Rory Cochrane) riff on George Washington‘s pot plantation is actually true, though we’re not sure that wife Martha really “had a big fat bowl waiting for him” when he arrived home.

Photo: Rory Cochrane, left, Jason London and Sasha Jenson star in “Dazed and Confused.” Credit: Gabor Szitanyi / Gramercy Pictures ()
Authenticity: Star Chris Tucker does not smoke weed but he could have fooled us playing Smokey, the L.A. pot dealer who’s a little too hooked on his own supply.

Stoned-track: Rick James singing (what else?) “Mary Jane.”

Place in pot culture: Forever secure, if only for the movie’s last moment when Smokey looks straight into the camera and tells us his pledge to go into rehab was (and we’ll paraphrase here) not exactly true.

Photo: Bernie Mac, left, Chris Tucker and Ice Cube in “Friday.” Credit: New Line Cinema ()
Authenticity: “Mind if I smoke a J?” asks the Dude, easily the most iconic pot smoker in film history. Jeff Bridges says he used “sense memory” while toking on one of the movie’s many stunt joints. We dig yer style, Dude.

Stoned-track: The Dude keeps Creedence in the tape deck but prefers to listen to the sounds of humpback whales when he’s under the influence.

Place in pot culture: As Joel Coen told The Times recently: “We get it all the time … ‘Lebowski’ is our bible, man.’ Every time some young stoner comes up to us, we safely assume he’s not going to tell us how much he loves ‘Blood Simple.’ ”

Photo: Jeff Bridges, left, and John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski.” Credit: Merrick Morton / Gramercy Pictures ()
Authenticity: Munchies? Check. Grateful-Dead-loving hippies? Check. Cops and pets getting inadvertently stoned? Check and check. It’s a veritable pot comedy compendium.

Stoned-track: Buzz-killing Smash Mouth.

Place in pot culture: Potheads dig the comedy but recoil at the incongruous anti-weed moral tacked on at the end. Imagine “Revenge of the Nerds” finishing with the message that geeks really are losers and you get the idea. You made a movie called “Half Baked.” Who exactly did you think would be buying tickets?

Photo: Dave Chappelle, left, and Rachel True in “Half Baked.” Credit: Universal ()
Authenticity: Heroes’ quest for undersized possibly meat-based product accurately reflects the depths pot users will sink to after inhaling.

Stoned-track: Harold (Kal Penn) dreams of romancing and marrying a giant bag of weed to Heart’s “Crazy on You.”

Place in pot culture: Movie’s cult status now compromised by Penn’s current employment in Obama administration. No one smokes pot in Washington, do they?

Photo: John Cho, left, and Kal Penn in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” Credit: Sophie Giraud / New Line Productions ()
Authenticity: That giant smoke ring Seth Rogen blows in the movie? It came from years of practice. It’s the pot movie equivalent of watching Jackie Chan running off a wall.

Stoned-track: Bob Marley and Peter Tosh … finally, Jamaica represents!

Place in pot culture: Between writing and starring in “Pineapple,” playing a pothead in “Knocked Up” and being upfront about his own fondness for grass, Rogen has become an unassuming hero to stoners. That you don’t have to be wasted to enjoy these movies makes the rest of us happy too.

Photos: Stoner Cinema

Photo: James Franco, left, and Seth Rogen in “Pineapple Express.” Credit: Darren Michaels / Columbia Pictures / Associated Press ()