Kid Cannabis (2014)
“Everyone wants to be a kingpin.”
Kid Cannabis (2014)
Director: John Stockwell
Cast: Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kenny Wormald, Aaron Yoo
Synopsis: An eighteen year old high school drop out and his twenty-seven year old friend start trafficking marijuana across the border of Canada in order to make money and their lives are changed forever.
Kid Cannabis is another one of those ‘based on a true story’ movies which leaves the casual viewer – i.e. ones who can’t be bothered carrying out a little research – wondering just what portion of the movie is based on fact, and how much derives from the imagination of its writer. For most of its running time, it plays like a wish-fulfilment fantasy, and only slips into cautionary tale mode in its final reel, by which time you’re wondering how the bozos involved managed to elude the law for so long.
Jonathan Daniel Brown is Nate, an eighteen-year-old high school drop-out scratching out a living delivering pizzas in his rust-eaten old banger. He lives with his mum (Amanda Tapping), a waitress on minimum wage, and dreams of a better life, a glimpse of which he gets when making a delivery to the home of a drug dealer. Deciding that drugs can provide a route out of his poverty-stricken rut, Nate enlists the aid of his friend Topher (Kenny Wormald) to run weed across the US-Canadian border. And run it they do, literally jogging in full combat disguise across the unmanned wilderness between countries. The duo then recruits a handful of friends to allow them to increase the scale of their operation, and hook-up with a criminal money man (Ron Perlman – Tangled, Pacific Rim) to finance the operation. Needless to say, it’s not long before their life is a succession of boozy lakeside parties in which teen girls in bikinis regularly bare their boobs.
Of course, it’s the boy’s overwhelming success and rapid expansion that sows the seeds for the gang’s eventual downfall. It’s a rule of crime movies that all criminal empires must fall before the final credits, and for all its youthful irreverence, Kid Cannabis is no different. Friends fall out. The foot soldiers resent taking all the risks for a minimal share of the proceeds. Topher takes offence at the way Nate tries to treat him as just another member of the gang, and Nate resents everyone else’s ingratitude. In addition to that, their meteoric rise severely impacts on the business of the neighbourhood’s former drugs kingpin, a wacko Asian kid by the name of Brendan Butler (an over-the-top performance from Aaron Yoo – A Nightmare on Elm Street, 10 Years) who hires a pair of hitmen to take care of his rivals.
While Kid Cannabis might follow the usual narrative arc of a crime movie, it does so while leaving us in no doubt that it’s firmly on the side of its bad boys. Even Nate’s mum, when things start turning sour, exclaims that “it’s only pot!” Although the fact that this otherwise ordinary American mom makes the remark while standing on the balcony of the lakeside house her son bought for her with his ill-gotten gains might well have something to do with her tolerant attitude, the movie seems to be trying to convince us that America is a nation of pot-heads in the same way that it was a nation of drinkers throughout the years of prohibition. Who knows, perhaps it is. Either way, Kid Cannabis seeks to demonise only that wacky Asian kid, even as it shows us that Brendan is probably only a year or two further down the road upon which Nate and his mates have embarked.
Strangely enough, although the movie sides with Nate, admiring his persistence and ingenuity, it also reveals him to be something of a jerk in the way that he’s prepared to try and relegate Topher to the role of underling once the money starts rolling in, and only offers to issue a one-off bonus payment to his runners when they’re hijacked by a rival gang one night (and even then only under protest). In fact, it’s this selfishness that provokes Topher into organising runs of his own, and which ultimately leads to their downfall. Perhaps it’s a deliberate ploy on the part of the writers to illustrate just how young and lacking in life-experience these kids were, but it makes it difficult to like any of them, which, in turn, makes it difficult to feel for them when the operation begins to fall apart.
(Reviewed 22nd March 2015)