The two sounds that open Homegrown (TriStar) have you immediately expecting the worst: the suuuckkk of someone inhaling a righteous hit while an off-camera slacker recites a few of the apparently 147 names for marijuana. But this dark hemp comedy soon sets its sights, uh, higher than the pandering, stoned-and-stoneder yuks of the recent Half Baked. Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal (Losing Isaiah, Paris Trout) and featuring a solid middleweight cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton, John Lithgow, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kelly Lynch, Homegrown recalls, at its best, the shaggy-druggie dramas of the ’70s — character-rich oddities like Who’ll Stop the Rain? At its worst, it’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as remade by the editors of High Times.

Still, Thornton has a plum little role as Jack, the wily, rough-edged overseer of a northern California pot plantation; aging pothead Carter (Hank Azaria) is the horticultural wiz, and punky young dude Harlan (Ryan Phillippe) is the bale-toting peon. When their boss (Lithgow) is murdered, the trio buries the body, keeps mum, and tries to both sell the crop and figure out where they stand in an increasingly cluttered field of lawmen, clients, and enemies.

Essentially, Homegrown‘s about what happens when ’60s burnouts try to become ’90s businessmen. In Jack’s case, he becomes his boss, donning classy suits as he takes stock of the dead man’s affairs and meets with his associates. Thornton beguilingly conveys both the man’s avarice and confusion — he’s turning into someone he envies, but at what cost to his identity? — while Phillippe puts across a sweet, dumb naivete that’s exquisitely teenage. Azaria, though, is a likable actor in an ill-defined role, and Carter’s romance with bud bagger Lucy (Lynch) forms the movie’s weakest link. (The silliest scene? That would be Lucy chopping wood in a rustic Victoria’s Secret bustier.)

Gyllenhaal’s clearly a talented filmmaker: The climax, a drug deal involving a deceptively mellow Jon Bon Jovi, stretches out the suspense until it twangs, and there’s a hint at what lengths a sleepy hippie town will go to to keep its paisley ideals intact that Homegrown would have done well to develop. In the end, though, the movie goes literally and figuratively in a direction decreed by those two wise men Cheech and Chong: up in smoke. C+

Home Grown
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