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If a Stoner Comedy Isn’t Funny When You’re Sober, Is It Any Good?

And a few other takeaways from ‘Super Troopers 2’

Just about every article and review describes Super Troopers as a “stoner comedy.” Everybody knows what that means: It’s a specific strand of funny film that (1) often features characters who are stoned; and (2) encourages its audience to join in and get comparably high. The Big Lebowski, Cheech and Chong movies, Pineapple Express, Harold & Kumar: With these classics, you can almost smell the pot smoke wafting from the screen as the glassy-eyed characters share in the same private sticky-icky joke.

Not all stoner comedies are created equal, though, and Super Troopers and its brand-new sequel serve as a reminder that some of these movies don’t just urge viewers to light up — it’s damn near a necessity. I’ve seen both films completely sober and didn’t laugh much either time. I’m sure their fans would argue that I’m missing out on a key component of Super Troopers’ genius. But I’d flip the argument around: If a stoner comedy sucks when you’re not stoned, is it actually good?

I’ve written before about being a bit of a straight edge — I blame my dad — who has the occasional drink but hasn’t gotten stoned for almost 20 years now. (A former girlfriend considered pot-smoking a deal-breaker, and I decided she was more appealing than weed.) But I still remember the sensation of being high — and being around friends who were high — to appreciate the appeal of great stoner art. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is brilliant, and the terrific bong-ready riffs of Queens of the Stone Age kick my ass. But the seeds-and-stems desperation of the Super Troopers films just leaves me bored. You may get high with your friends and find this shit hilarious. I hope so: Because I can barely sit through it sober.

Super Troopers 2 basically recreates the plot of the 2002 original. Once again, the creative team of Broken Lizard (led by director Jay Chandrasekhar) writes and stars in a story about a group of screw-up Vermont state troopers who have to save the day — when they’re not pulling pranks and trying to pick up women, of course. This time, they venture into Canada for a bunch of sooory, eh? barbs at the expense of the Canucks. But aside from a few obvious gags, there’s not really that many stoner jokes. If you’re a fan of random stupidity, Super Troopers 2 has it in spades, but rarely does the film build to the kind of inspired, WTF-style bizarreness that’s the hallmark of a good stoner comedy.

So what, exactly, is so “stoner” about this comedy? Judging from the preview screening I attended, which was jam-packed with Broken Lizard fans, the answer seems to be how unrepentantly bro-tastic the humor is. Like the first film, Super Troopers 2 peddles a bunch of homoerotic gags in between a lot of sophomoric shtick, wink-wink ironic racism and the occasional sex joke. The dudes around me let fly with a volley of heh-heh-hehs at all the right moments, and it was clear a few of ’em had to be drunk and/or stoned.

I’m not knocking what other people do to have a good time, but I always get a little annoyed at a movie like Super Troopers 2 that uses “stoner comedy” as a shield to deflect criticism that it’s not actually good. And as weed becomes more accepted in mainstream America, the very idea of a stoner comedy as some sort of transgressive act may start to feel passé. After all, weren’t Cheech and Chong hilarious, in part, because they were anti-authoritarian? They were outsiders and rebels whose pot smoking was like a middle finger to the man. Flash-forward 40 years, and the comparably conservative Super Troopers 2 risks offending no one — the Canadian jokes are toothless — and rebels against nothing. No wonder the strained attempts at comedy merely go up in smoke.

Here are a few other takeaways from Super Troopers 2. (And warning: There will be spoilers.)

#1. Seriously, let’s ban end-credits gag reels.

Question: Has there ever been a funny gag reel at the end of a comedy? Answer: No. Gag reels are dumb. The rationale behind them seems to be, “Hey, the cast and crew had such a good time making this movie, let’s show the audience a little bit of the fun we had on set screwing up lines and improv-ing bits that ended up not being funny enough for the film?!?” A gag reel is the easiest way to tell the viewer, “You can leave the theater now — or you could stick around and watch stuff that isn’t as good as what you just paid to see.”

Super Troopers 2 has a gag reel, and I sat through the whole thing to see if I’d laugh. I might have chuckled once. The rest of the time I sat there thinking, “Yeah, all this stuff is dumb. The director was smart not to include these scenes in the movie. Why am I watching it now?

Maybe filmmakers think we love watching professional actors break during a scene. But why do they think that? Sure, it’s charming if it happens once, but over and over again?

There are only two exceptions I’d make to the no-gag-reel rule. The first is something like the end of There’s Something About Mary, where the Farrelly brothers filmed outtakes with their cast lip-synching to the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup.” The song is catchy, and it was fun to see the whole crew getting into it.

The other is when Pixar introduced the idea of animated bloopers at the end of its second feature, A Bug’s Life. That was a legitimately clever way of satirizing the whole gag-reel thing. Anybody else? Nope, sorry, don’t do it. Just roll the credits, and let us leave.

#2. Don’t worry, guys: You can take female sex pills and not turn into a woman.

One of Super Troopers 2’s running jokes is that Thorny (Chandrasekhar) accidentally takes “Flova Scotia,” a Canadian female sexual enhancer that gives him all kinds of weird side effects that usually affect women. (He lactates, he gets moody, etc.) While I was busy not laughing at this joke, I started wondering: What would happen if a man took female Viagra?

My Canadian Pharmacy came to my rescue, assuring men like me that we won’t start exhibiting female qualities if we take the wrong pill. “[I]f a hypothetic male patient were to take a tablet of Viagra meant for women,” the site says, “it would not entail any complications. However, it wouldn’t bring any overwhelming effects, either. … [W]hile it is relatively safe to apply Female Viagra in males, it is fairly uneventful and void of any meaningful therapeutic effect.”

So, in case you were wondering: Don’t turn to Super Troopers 2 for accurate medical information.

#3. Guess which of these things actually doesn’t happen in the movie.

A comedy like Super Troopers 2 lives or dies on the amount of “crazy shit” that occurs during the film. See if you can pick the one thing below that doesn’t happen…

A. Fred Savage (playing himself) is killed when a fire truck runs him over.

B. Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske) gets his genitals stuck in a saw blade.

C. A goofy Canadian mayor (Rob Lowe) spends time in a brothel batting a male prostitute’s dick around.

D. Rod (Kevin Heffernan) ends up in an outhouse that tips over, covering him in dirty toilet water.

E. O’Hagen (Brian Cox) get sodomized by a bear he mistakes for his ex-wife.

F. During an acid trip, Mac (Steve Lemme) pictures O’Hagen as a Japanese geisha, complete with minstrel-y Japanese-sounding music.

The answer is ….. E. I wish it had been F, though.