Half Baked: Totally High + How High 2

How High 2
April 20th 2024

Universal 1440 Entertainment has cornered the market on decades-late sequels to cult stoner comedies. This direct-to-video shingle of NBCUniversal produced How High 2 (2019) eighteen years after the original, and is releasing Half Baked: Totally High (2024) this month, twenty-six years after the first blazed onto screens. 1440 is an IP scavenger for Universal that generates cheaply made DTV sequels and prequels for hits like American Pie and Bring It On, but also for vaguely remembered bombs like Bulletproof (1996) and R.I.P.D. (2013). They also produced a “reimagining” of The River Wild in 2023 starring ex-SNLer Taran Killam. I imagine that their greenlight process is to get super high and watch YouTube clips from random MTV Movie Awards, funding a sequel to whatever cracks them up. I urge more studios to take up this practice.

Half Baked (1998) and How High (2001) were peak DVD-era movies for teenage boys, omnipresent alongside a greasy PlayStation and empty bags of Combos. Both did negligible theatrical box office, but cultivated their cults on physical media where potheads, weirdos, and pothead weirdos embraced their crude subversive nonsense—whether that’s using the power of weed to fly past the Manhattan skyline or smoking the ashes of your dead friend so his ghost can help you ace college-entry exams. Half Baked also had the staccato charisma of a pre-jacked Dave Chappelle as the stoner security guard Thurgood, and How High had the gregarious charms of Method Man and Redman, who were clearly having a ball tearing down Harvard University. [Ed. note: How High also represents the debut feature of Bob Dylan’s son Jesse Dylan and the final film role of the great writer and performing artist Spalding Gray as a militantly obsequious Black History professor.]

Universal 1440 does not have the budget to bring any of these main stars back, so the sequels have to decide how closely to link themselves to the originals. Half Baked: Totally High is a direct sequel that follows Thurgood’s son JR (Dexter Darden), whose mother Mary Jane (the returning Rachel True), moved them across the country after ditching his deadbeat dad. There is also a very brief cameo from the inimitable mutterer Harland Williams—from the original quartet alongside Chappelle, Jim Breuer, and Guillermo Diaz—as a smoke happy gym teacher. How High 2 is less beholden to its predecessor, inventing wholly new characters who exist in the same world as the first. Rapper Lil Yachty and the multi-hyphenate DC Young Fly take the reins as Roger and Calvin, two broke losers living in Roger’s basement who stumble upon a weed bible that grows supernaturally good shit. How High 2 also ropes in Mike Epps to reprise his role as the slap-happy pimp Baby Powder, who appears in a recurring hallucination encouraging the boys on their weed growing journey with powdery slaps. Also coming back in brief cameos are Al Shearer as the mute “I Got Money,” an upgrade from his broke DJ “I Need Money” in the original, and the uptight security guard T.J. Thyne, still a narc after all these years.

Harland Williams in Half Baked: Totally High
Harland Williams returns for a brief cameo in Half Baked: Totally High

Both films use the picaresque shaggy dog journey template set by Cheech & Chong’s pot comedy classic Up in Smoke (1978). Half Baked: Totally High has JR and his buddies Myles—a rideshare driver and terrible standup comedian—and Corey—a content creator selling “Wargasm” sex toys on her social media—attempt to travel from California to Passaic, NJ, in order to bury their dead pal Bruce, who kicks the bucket after smoking “the holy trinity” of weed—a combination of indica, sativa, and the newly discovered strain Biblica. Naturally, they start selling Biblica to fund their trip. In How High 2, Roger and Calvin get their weed bible and stash stolen. As a result, they have to travel throughout Atlanta to track it down, going from their menacing old high school to a Russian mob-owned strip club and ending up at a dodgy pharmaceutical company led by Mary Lynn Rajskub (channeling Elizabeth Holmes).

The great pleasure of the stoner film is digression, they stop and double back into absurd subplots that go nowhere as if its protagonists were narrating their own story and lost the thread. Half Baked had the mystery of “The Guy On the Couch,” a permanent apartment crasher played by the brilliantly monotonal Steven Wright, who wanders in the background of scenes like a zonked-out ghost. In a particularly desperate moment in How High, in which the crusty old Dean Cain (a joke for fans of TV’s Lois and Clark) threatens to flunk Method Man and Redman, they dig up the corpse of John Quincy Adams with the hopes that smoking his remains will conjure his ghost, who will then hopefully help them cheat their way through their exams. The scene is even more grotesque than that description implies— they attempt a Presidential Puree by putting his remains in a blender and try to spark up a bony finger—but it all goes nowhere, letting the film meander on to the next bit of nonsense. It’s a true stoner comedy masterpiece, one with a Looney Tunes sense of physical elasticity.

The new gang: Ramona Young, Dexter Darden, and Joel Courtney
The new gang: Ramona Young, Dexter Darden, and Moses Storm.

How High 2 channels that spirit when smoke pours out of Calvin’s nipples after he tries Rajskub’s “safe” weed replacement drug “Fye,” which has been causing insanity among test-subjects during covered-up secret trials. DC Young Fly’s electric performance and uncanny body control makes these bits of heightened physical comedy almost seem natural. In Half Baked: Totally High, the evil white corporate type is played by a snarling David Koechner, who runs a legal dispensary and tries to elbow all of the independent operators out of business. The weed film, at least as presented by Universal 1444, has become critical of the corporatization that followed legalization and romanticizes the humble independent pot seller as though they were a frontiersman in a Western set before civilization rolls in.

Koechner is not the mustache-twirling final villain of Half Baked: Totally High though—there are a few more rungs up the corporate/criminal ladder to get there. There is a drug kingpin with nasty halitosis named Shadow (Justin Miles)—who appears to be the source of the Biblica—but JR discovers he’s actually a pushover. The real heat emerges from an unhinged appearance by one of JR’s regular customers, played by Frankie Muniz, who becomes obsessed with the Biblica strain and tilts Totally High into a wildly unexpected torture horror parody.

And for no-budget sequels made decades too late, all I can ask for is something unexpected. In How High 2, that’s DC Young Fly bouncing off the walls as if he was Daffy Duck on a bender, and in Half Baked: Totally High it’s the escalating absurdity of its last act, which spins off the globe and ascends into another dimension. Whatever Universal 1440 is smoking, I’d like some of it too.

How High 2 (Unrated) is streaming on Amazon Prime. Half Baked: Totally High was quietly added to Tubi this week and can be watched for free in its entirety right now.