Showtime's 'Reefer’ Is Not Smoking

4/10/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

A small-screen adaptation of an award-winning off-Broadway musical, Showtime’s musical rendition of Reefer Madness tries to be as deliberately funny as the 1930s cautionary tale that inspired it.

But sometimes one can try too hard.

Loosely adapted from the cult classic, Reefer Madness takes viewers to a generic small-town high school in 1936, where “The Lecturer” (Alan Cumming) is revealing the shocking facts about marijuana to an auditorium of Midwestern-looking parents.

The Lecturer makes his point by showing a film-within-a-film, the story of Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) and Mary Lane (Kristen Bell), a pair of over-the-top wholesome teens from the local high school who are falling in love until Jimmy — looking to impress Mary by learning to dance — falls into a bad crowd at the local five-and-dime.

It’s there that he meets the town’s pot pusher, Jack Stone (Steven Weber, showing some of his The Producers-honed song-and-dance chops) who whisks him away to the drug den he runs from the apartment of his girlfriend, Mae (Saturday Night Live’s Ana Gasteyer). The apartment is home to a dysfunctional drug family of sorts, including Ralph Wiley (John Kassir) — a wild-eyed ex-college boy who always behaves the way the characters in Reefer Madness do at the height of inebriation — and Sally DeBains (Amy Spanger), who uses her body to support her pot habit and a lovechild who’s often left too close to the stove.

If the names seem a bit camp, well, the whole movie is — Reefer Madness exhibits a Rogers and Hammerstein-meet-John Waters vibe throughout. That sense of humor sustains the production through its first 90 minutes, but if you’re not the kind who gravitates to this sort of thing, you might be bored by then.

After Jimmy and Mary play out their fateful Romeo-and-Juliet scene, the musical begins to diverge wildly away from its muse and goes most astray. The last few musical numbers trade camp for violence, and the next-to-last sequence is as bloody as a Peckinpah movie. By then, the whole premise starts to tier.

The songs are better-than-serviceable standard Broadway fare, and the singing, dancing and acting (particularly by Weber, Gasteyer, Bell and Cumming) are well-done. But in making its point that drug laws are sometimes pointless, the light-entertainment film gets a little pedantic.

The overall takeaway is the impression the musical version of Reefer Madness might inhale a little more easily in its theater form.

Reefer Madness bows Saturday, April 16 on Showtime.