Overview: Stoner comedian, Doug Benson, continues his series of haphazard, lackadaisical documentary pieces that take direct inspiration from the films of Morgan Spurlock, with the most recent entry posited in answer to Spurlock’s investigation of the culture surrounding Comic-Con, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. 2015; Film Signal Inc.; Not Rated; 75 minutes.
Reluctant Prophet: In comedian Doug Benson’s prior documentary films (see Super High Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled), the aging stoner made light fun of the supposed pomposity and elevated status of Oscar nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock, whose 2004 independent feature Super Size Me (an expose on the gluttony adherent to the commercialization of fast food in America) has granted Spurlock a career in documentary filmmaking that has served to catapult his image into the mainstream. In such subsequent releases as POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and in addition to reasonable success in producing and starring on two separate reality TV shows, Spurlock has courted marginal celebrity status with a public image that is authoritatively commanding of viewer attention but never condescending in tone. Likewise, Benson is a comic whose near constant chemically altered consciousness has become a state of being in his act and various live performances, including a hit podcast show, filmed and distributed online through YouTube, wherein Benson and featured guests smoke pot and attempt to have engaged, extended conversations with one another, a la Benson’s stand-up persona. While Morgan Spurlock might be more amenable to the conservative manner more inherent to mainstream media, Benson trades on a similarly relaxed oratorical manner, making a reluctant prophet out of both of the two filmmakers and performers.
Prurient Profundity: In CHRONIC-CON Episode 420: A New Dope, Doug Benson trades upon a very special appeal within the realm of entertainment that falls just left of the mainstream, joining the ranks of the very select brand of oddball profanity most characteristic of Jackass and its affiliated Dickhouse Productions studio. Like Johnny Knoxville and company, Benson is funny in an entirely profane way. In deciding to openly court controversy by never appearing at any venue clean or sober, Benson invites his audience and legion fans to enjoy a form of lethargy and slothfulness otherwise frowned upon by the morally upright. While this sort of uncouth decorum and lack of professional sobriety might strike some viewers as far too unfocused and unwieldy to be entertaining (which is certainly a problem some of the time, and in this movie in particular), part of the charm of a cinematic mess such as CHRONIC-CON comes in its unapologetic mockery of audience expectations, the film’s prurient self-interest being the point of the entire production, though such narcissism can unfortunately give rise to a loosely structured plot, and little to no dramatic direction, which is A New Dope’s decided shortcoming.
420 Strikes Back: Like The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled, the third in Doug Benson’s series of Morgan Spurlock-inspired documentaries proves to be less interested in a central thesis or cause (which was the case only in Super High Me) but instead focuses on Benson’s dope fiend tendencies. The cannabis plant is the central cerebral focus of the entire movie. This isn’t necessarily a shortcoming, given Benson’s track record as a comedian and a performer, but the film also doesn’t really seem to be about the San Diego Comic-Con, despite featuring it heavily throughout. Benson might have some fun smoking pot and partying with a guy dressed up as Batman, but with little else in the film about or even centered around the phenomenon that is Comic-Con, Benson’s take on the multi-media event falls short, and feels more like an extension of one of his podcasts.
Overall: If you like Doug Benson, CHRONIC-CON Episode 420: A New Dope may be for you, but don’t expect it to live up to the heights first established in Super High Me.
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