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    Tokin' effort

    "Grass" pokes fun at the dopes who run the war on drugs, but starts to drag when it comes to real answers.


    "Grass" is an amusing anti-propaganda propaganda film. But not much more than that.

    Directed by: Ron Mann.
    Narrated by: Woody Harrelson.

    Related links: Official site
    Director Ron Mann wants to demystify and destigmatize marijuana smoking. Pot should be legalized, according to "Grass," because smoking it is no more physically damaging than drinking alcohol, and our government has been wasting billions of dollars fighting to eradicate marijuana use when even respectable public figures like former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia have attested to its relative harmlessness (more on that later).

    It's a sound argument, and you do leave the theater wondering if maybe we should rethink our attitudes toward benign ol' Mary Jane. But the journey to enlightenment that "Grass" promises to deliver is a pretty heavy-handed trip. There is never any relief from Mann's earnestness. Even the animated segues by Paul Mavrides — things like illustrated prison bars slamming and a counter loudly tallying the dollar amount being spent on the drug war — between the film's segments are relentlessly urgent.

    "Grass" begins with pot's arrival in the U.S. (Mexican laborers brought it over in the 1920s and used to smoke it to relax after a day in the fields the same way their white-collar counterparts would down a drink after a day in the office) and takes us through its demonization, criminalization, and misrepresentation. Archival footage and photos and a smokin' soundtrack (including the swing song "Reefer Man") help make the case for tolerance. And a subdued Woody Harrelson, a natural-born hemp activist, narrates.

    The movie is entertaining enough, but it's no call to action. Part of the problem may have to do with the cause itself. It's hard to get heated up about the pro-pot movement when you've just seen, say, a James Nachtwey photo of a starving Rwandan. It's difficult to be moved to work for change when it feels as if you'd be fighting for someone's right to go bong-ers and not something more sociologically redeeming.

    But it helps to think of the money, time, and lives being wasted in the struggle to keep this a weed-free country — points that "Grass" skillfully, if strenuously, illuminates. The harsh minimum sentences for first-time offenders, for example, have pushed our prisons to overflowing. Think there's not enough room in the penitentiaries to continue prosecuting drug offenders? Don't worry. President George Bush appears on the screen, promising that he'll make room.

    I wish there had been more moments like this one, where politicians' foolishness and hard-headedness were on display without any embellishment. "Grass" contains gratuitous scenes of various government officials flubbing their lines when attempting to film public addresses related to drug use. I suppose Mann's trying to show that this great omniscient force we call the government is actually nothing more than a bunch of ordinary human beings who, like us, at times are misinformed and make mistakes. But in 2000, when we've deconstructed everything to the point that we actually discuss the details of our president's sex life, is there anyone left who needs to be reminded of the human frailties of our elected leaders? The bloopers in this movie play like cheap shots.

    Better to take the considered approach, like fiery Mayor La Guardia. He challenged the common perception that pot was a threat to mind, body, and New York City and commissioned a study to learn about the drug. He concluded, in accordance with the results of the study, that pot's overall significance had been exaggerated.

    "Grass's" import, too, has been blown out of proportion. Consume it with an eye toward moderation.

    MARCH 27, 2000

    Reader comments on Grass:

  • GRASS - so funny!   from , Sep 19, 2000
  • refer!!!   from jessica, Nov 15, 2000
  • Grass-I stood up and clapped   from Kevin Zimmerman, Sep 23, 2002
  • [no subject]   from Ruby Hindy, Mar 3, 2004
  • Grass better than review claims   from xxdr_zombiexx, Aug 23, 2004
  • [no subject]   from Alex Thompson, Nov 24, 2004
  • make it leagal   from CB, Dec 15, 2004
  • Great movie!!!!!   from CB, Dec 15, 2004
  • "Grass" Documentary   from Jean H, Jan 17, 2005
  • GRASS!   from Deborah, Mar 29, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Rich, May 31, 2005
  • great movie   from matttt, Sep 20, 2005
  • Grass   from Evelyn, Jun 4, 2006
  • Grass   from jimbeau-x, Nov 27, 2006
  • grass   from ben, Mar 21, 2008
  • My opinion =)   from Jordan, Nov 13, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Grass"