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Better than They Told You - 'Dude, Where's My Car?' (2000)

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Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)

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High art.

In this case I don't mean art created by and for the elite intelligentsia. Dude, Where's My Car? has no pretense toward that. I instead mean art on the subject of drug culture. Make no mistake; this isn't Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. The protagonists only once question their life choices as far as "herbal entertainment" is concerned, and their foggy brains quickly reject the idea. Dude, Where's My Car? is instead a Dick and Maryjane story asking simple questions and getting hazy, cloudy answers for most of the narrative. And I love it.

Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann William Scott) awake one morning - it doesn't matter which morning; it could be Tuesday, Saturday or Easter for all that they care - with a refrigerator full of pudding, a man living in their closet, and little knowledge of what they did the night before. They enjoy the life they have as wayward pizza delivery boys who get high, watch Discovery Channel and Animal Planet (back when these were still educational programming powerhouses rather than yet another vehicle for funneling "reality" TV into our homes) and pursue the affections of their girlfriends.

It's the girlfriends, known throughout the film as "the twins" (Marla Sokloff and Jennifer Garner) who set the plot in motion, revealing through an answering machine message that they are more than a little displeased with the boys for showing up at their party with stolen pizza and a group of strangers the night before. As way of mending fences, and because it also happens to be their anniversary, Jesse and Chester set out to deliver presents, apologize to the twins, and hopefully collect their "special treats," which they believe might be sex.

The boys emerge from their shared home only to discover that Jesse's car has gone missing, so they begin retracing their steps. What follows is an adventure that blends Dora the Explorer with slacker comedy. Our heroes must tax themselves to the limit as they attempt to piece together the events of the prior night that somehow include crazy strippers, a briefcase of stolen money, and a device that has the capacity to end the universe. Don't dwell too long on that last one.

Dude, Where's My Car? received a critical drubbing when released. Reviews classified it as pointless, childish and even argued it might be racist due to its depictions of black and Asian people. I think somebody missed the point. The film is clearly intended to be viewed through the perspectives of Jesse and Chester. We are gaining a glimpse into the world of the stoner - the stupid becomes funny, minor inconveniences become potentially world-ending obstacles, and everybody becomes a stereotype. Further, those "racist" cariacatures all outsmarted and even looked down upon the main characters. We're meant to laugh at the two stoners as much as with them.

As further evidence of the "filmed in stonervision" claim, most sets are colorful and brightly lit, almost painfully so, as if your pupils had been dilated. California sunshine dominates every frame shot outside in daylight. The costumes are appropriate and vibrant and the props have a cartoonish essence.

While not appropriate for children, and not something I would suggest watching with your grandma, Dude, Where's My Car? is a light-hearted, fun film about the culture of man-children. I might even say it's insightful at times as "straights" (non drug users) like me can learn that stoners are people, too.

One last, very strange footnote: Director Danny Leiner went on to make a similar film, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), and received far better notices. Maybe more reviewers had their medical marijuana cards by then? Go figure.

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