Musical 'Reefer' too high on camp
REEFER MADNESS. Saturday night at 10, Showtime.
On paper, Showtime's telemovie version of "Reefer Madness," an expanded version of the recent cult stage musical about the infamous 1938 anti-marijuana propaganda film, sounds like fun.
It has a good cast and a great look, and is the sort of project that looks irresistibly enjoyable in previews.
"Reefer Madness" arrives Saturday night at 10 not on paper - but on television. And by adapting the stage musical with the camp values amped up, it arrives with a tone that's too loud, too obvious and much too disappointing.
The original stage musical version of "Reefer Madness," performed on both coasts in relatively small productions, was written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, who also wrote the teleplay; Murphy wrote the lyrics, which contain bursts of cleverness, and Studney wrote the music, which doesn't.
Andy Fickman directs the TV version, which encompasses everything from animation and special effects to Busby Berkeley camerawork and headless horror-movie scenes.
Behind the scenes, Murphy is a much hotter draw this season as one of Marc Cherry's collaborators on ABC's "Desperate Housewives."
And in front of the camera, Kristen Bell, as the innocent girl tempted to sample the evils of the illegal weed, has seen her star rise as well, as the protagonist of UPN's "Veronica Mars."
Also starring in "Reefer Madness" are Alan Cumming, throwing himself into his role of anti-drug lecturer with the same enthusiasm he did as the emcee in Broadway's revival of "Cabaret" - but without the quality of material with which to work.
Ana Gasteyer, formerly of "Saturday Night Live," and Steven Weber, formerly of "Wings," play two evil influences on Bell's Mary Lane and her initially sweet boyfriend, Jack, played by Christian Campbell.
Campbell, who originated the role in the stage production, is joined here by his better-known sister Neve, who has a small role just to help out.
This is a cast that could, maybe even should have worked - but most of them are directed here to play for the last row of the balcony, and, in the tradition of "The Rocky Horror Show," to try to get people to throw toast. The tone is so over-the-top camp, it's deafening. And tone-deaf, in a musical, is not a pleasant attribute.
If it's worth watching, it's to watch the blondes having more fun. Bell is a blast as the good girl gone bad - gone, briefly, all vinyl and whips - and demonstrates not only a very good singing voice, but modulates her performance properly as well.
So does Amy Spanger, a TV newcomer who was featured in Broadway's recent revival of "Kiss Me Kate."
Cumming and Weber are the best of the men, who also include John Kassir as a hophead and Robert Torti as Jesus. But Weber's role, like this movie, isn't good enough to allow him to soar as other of his former "Wings" cast members have.
"Reefer Madness" the TV musical, though, is no cult hit.
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