Director: Stephen Gyllerhaal            
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Hank Azaria, Kelly Lynch

What kind of movie is Homegrown? Is it an action movie? No, even though a number of guns get fired, and people get beaten. Is it a comedy? No, even though there are some amusing bits, and the video box giving the impression it is. Is it a straight drama? No, dramatic themes never are focused on for long. What kind of a movie is it, then? I don't know what genre it could fit it. Maybe that's why Sony only gave this movie a very small theatrical release in the northwestern United States before dumping it on video. Though certainly the fact that the movie is centered on the growing and harvesting of marijuana would make it a tough sell, because the MPAA forbids the showing or mentioning of narcotics in advertisements. After all, the drug comedy Half-Baked, released the same year, came out with advertisements that made no sense, because of this rule - and look how that did at the box office.

This low-budget movie was clearly a labor of love for those who participated. In addition to the top-lined cast, there are microscopic cameos by John Lithgow, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Mellencap, Ted Danson, and Judge Reinhold. It sometimes feels like the cinematic equivalent of when Judy and Mickey exclaimed, "Let's put on a show!" Now you're probably feeling that Homegrown is a bad movie. In fact, it's pretty good. You may call it impoverished, predictable, and unfocused, but it certainly isn't dull. You really get interested in these characters.

Homegrown centers around three characters: Jack (Thornton), Carter (Azaria), and Harlan (Ryan Phillippe), living in a small northern California town. Several miles out of town in the forest, they work on the marijuana plantation that's owned by their boss Malcolm (Lithgow). At the beginning of the movie, Malcolm flies in a helicopter from San Francisco to inspect the crop, which is almost ready to be harvested. But as soon as the helicopter lands in front of the three workers, the helicopter pilot shoots Malcolm dead, and flies away.

Terrified by what they've just seen, the three quickly run back to the plantation and cut down enough plants to compensate them for their work. Subsequently, they flee and hide out at the house of Lucy (Lynch), who is an old friend of Carter, and don't tell her what happened. Shortly afterwards, they sell their goods to a local dealer, and are surprised how easy it was. Sneaking back to the plantation, they are surprised again by the fact that the plantation hasn't been taken over or touched. There's millions of dollars there, just ripe for the picking. So the three agree to immediately create a plan to harvest, sell, and keep the profits of the crop. They agree not to tell anyone of Malcolm's death, and Jack will keep the appearance that Malcolm is alive by visiting his S.F. office and impersonate him on the telephone. Needless to say, things don't quite turn up that cut and dried...

Up to now, the tone has been generally lightly comic. Then, with each subsequent scene, the tone changes. Sometimes it's comic, other times it's serious, such as when a romance blossoms between young punk Harlan and the older Lucy. There are also several harsh sequences, including a brutal incident at Malcolm's grave, and another when Jack, impersonating Malcolm, meets some mobsters who are waiting for the crop that they were promised in a telephone deal with Malcolm. In other hands, this might have turned into a mishmash of genres. However, director Gyllerhaal makes it work here by making each subsequent incident grow naturally from what has previously happened. Sometimes amusing things do happen during serious times. And serious problems can sometimes befall people who have been relaxed and have just got into the rhythm of things. Many different things happen to these people, but they all have a reasonable chance of happening.

If there's one disappointment in the movie, it would have to belong to an interesting theme that occasionally surfaces in the movie: that small towns like the one here depend directly or indirectly on the cultivation and transport of the drug. For example, a deputy briefly mentions that the new auditorium where his nephew is performing in a play was built thanks to the jobs and dollars the crop generated. I'm not objecting to this theme, but for the fact that it is not discussed further or illustrated in more detail. You'd think that a movie dealing with drugs - and not a comedy or an action flick - would use this opportunity to discuss what is no doubt a real-life fact for many struggling small towns in the northwest. However, it looks like we'll have to wait longer for such a treatment in a movie.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Phoenix, Your Three Minutes Are Up, Route 9