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With: Woody Harrelson (narrator)
Written by: Solomon Vesta
Directed by: Ron Mann
MPAA Rating: R for drug content
Running Time: 80
Date: 09/15/1999

Grass (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

This 'Grass' Is Greener

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Grass is an entertaining documentary providing a thorough and amusing history of marijuana in the United States. Unfortunately, the movie is only preaching to the converted. Real-life fans of grass will get a big kick out of the film, which plays at the Castro theater for thirteen days: June 2-14.

Marijuana's history has always been tightly intertwined with people who believe that it is evil. According to the film, it was brought to the U.S. in the early part of the 20th Century by Mexican laborers, who smoked it during their leisure time. Viewing the Mexicans as dangerous lowlifes, the U.S. declared the weed as immoral and dangerous to "decent" people. It established a government commission to keep it under control, a commission that still operates to this day.

The movie's narrator, Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Thin Red Line), has been a strong advocate for the legalization of marijuana almost to the point of parodying himself. Grass puts him back on track again. It puts logical words into his mouth and raises strong arguments.

Rather than being preachy, Grass manages a humorous tone throughout, making fun of opponents of marijuana, but providing reasons and facts for the harangue. It also uses all kinds of amusing clips to illustrate its points, from early movies like Reefer Madness (1936), which shows smokers going mad and being driven to violence, to clips of Robert Mitchum -- who was once arrested for possession -- in Raoul Walsh's Pursued (1947) being hung by a hemp rope, and Cheech and Chong in Up in Smoke (1978). New animations and graphics are cleverly designed to update these old clips with modern day knowledge. And various chapter headings provide a specific era's reason for hating marijuana ("if you smoke it you will become addicted to heroin!", etc.).

Director Ron Mann has also made Comic Book Confidential (1988) and Twist (1991), similarly entertaining films about rather lightweight subject matter. Here he attempts a little more than just cataloging pop culture, taking on politics and government with a more than slanted tone. Grass provides us with title cards counting how much money has been spent per decade battling marijuana. In the 1990s, It was up to the billions. And the war continues, the movie says.

Grass won't do much to change the world because marijuana opponents most likely won't bother to see it. In the end, I suppose it's just as lightweight as Mann's previous movies about comic books and the Twist. But anyone who does make an effort to see Grass will have a lot of fun.

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