Smiley Face is Gregg Araki
's entry into that hallowed genre of the stoner comedy, of which Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle may be the most resent minor classic (a major stoner classic seems somehow self-contradictory, doesn't it?). But Araki's take on what is really the modern update of slapstick lags in some major departments, mostly notably in briskness and anarchy, the engines of this genre. Thankfully, this being an Araki outing, it still manages a dash of weirdness and spontaneity to keep things amusingly off-kilter.
Smiley Face's stoner heroine Jane F. (Anna Faris
) may be about as dull as bongwater, so a story about her had better be sharp and stepped up for it to register, and it can't even for half a beat be afraid that it's not making sense. The best slapstick flicks -- of which the stoner comedy is the modern-day update -- do not care if you get the jokes or not, or even if you like them very much (those qualities help make everything from The Three Stooges to Airplane! to the aforementioned Harold & Kumar so charming). In this regard, Araki's approach to the material is rather cautious, as the genre goes; there's a been-there-done-that whiff about this humor, and he wants to endear us to Jane and her story too insistently. Most troublesome is that Araki and screenwriter Dylan Haggerty beat a very simple premise -- that this chick is baked out of her gourd -- into the ground over and over again. The entire extent of Smiley Face's comedy rests on Faris pulling the dopey stoner face and stumbling through the scenery as she scrambles to pay off her dealer so he won't confiscate her furniture. Article continues below
Faris has the chops for the role, but her performance lacks the balls-to-the-wall boldness that this sort of comedy demands. This is due less to Faris, who sticks a couple of hilarious moments, and more to Araki handling this material with kid gloves. There's a somewhat precious quality to this movie, a contentment with tired jokes that causes the material to slow and idle throughout. Notably, there are gags peripheral to the pothead humor -- like a bit about how Jane's creepy roommate (a funny Danny Masterson), a sci-fi freak, just might be into skull sex -- that spark laughs. But Araki and Haggerty keep playing that particular gag up at every turn, and, unfortunately, wring it to death.
Jane's episodic crosstown odyssey to meet her dealer mildly entertains without rising to the requisite level of manic giddiness. Araki gives us welcome cameos from a raft of excellent comedy actors, including Brian Posehn (best known from TV's divine Mr. Show and the equally divine The Sarah Silverman Program) and Dave Allen (the hippie-dippy counselor from TV's peerless Freaks and Geeks), and he gets sharp comic turns from his supporting players. Foremost among the latter are John Krasinski
as Brevin, an über-doofus who's got the hots for the ever-clueless Jane
, and John Cho
(from Harold & Kumar, there's that movie again), as a sausage delivery driver in whose truck she stows away. It's these appearances that lend Smiley Face its freshness, though the material runs stale even before the credits roll. Coincidentally, a recent episode of Sarah Silverman
featured Posehn as a pothead who mistakenly oversmokes, forgets how to drive, and blunders into a local protest rally; those 22 minutes were more adventurous and hilarious, it must be said, than most anything in Smiley Face's 85.