One way to elevate the stoner comedy — And who asked for that? — might be to cast against type.
Thus “Dude,” an L.A. high school stoner romp about four BFFs coping with senior year, prom, college plans, singing along to your favorite hip hop and getting baked in the SUV every AM before class.
They’re young women, a willfully diverse weed wolfpack led by Lily (Lucy Hale of “Truth or Dare”) and peopled with the likes of Amelia (Alexandra Shipp of “Love, Simon”), Rebecca (Awkwafina of “Neighbors 2”) and Chloe (Kathryn Prescott of TV’s “24: Legacy”).
They’re introduced at junior prom, where they establish their routine (firing up), their characters and their tragedy.
Chloe’s jock older brother (Austin Butler), Lily’s crush, is killed in a car wreck.
A year later, they’re queens of campus as seniors. Lily’s class president, throwing herself into micromanaging the prom. Chloe is keeping her crushing college options to herself, quietly grieving with her openly-grieving mom (Brooke Smith, awesome), Rebecca is having impure thoughts in the bathroom stall about a guy who might ask her to prom — not likely, as he’ll be there, as a TEACHER — and Amelia is doing the “younger boy throw-down, they do what you say” while mediating her parent’s break-up.
It’s Path Less Taken High’s finest hour, or not.
“All right ladies, let’s throw on some slutty dresses and get f—-d up.”
The code of teen rom-coms decrees that Lily has to also be the star of the soccer team, and that she has to reject the sweet, helpful underclassman on the prom committee (Alex Wolff), even though he sings and plays the ukulele in front of the rest of the committee as a way of asking her to be his date.
“I’m a Jew. You’re a Jew, too…Jews should stick together because there’s not so many of us.”
The banter is prime California Crude — “I’d let him Harry Potter this.” “I’ve gotta dump out.”
School back East? Will they be able to tolerate inferior Eastern weed?
“Treeless in Seattle?” “One Tree Hill.”
Maybe they’ll get into “Cool, like brooding, winter drugs…like opium,” Rebecca suggests.
Jack McBrayer is the “cool” PE teacher with tales of flinging drugs over the wall to his brother in prison. Just a way of jump starting the kids’ essays on drug abuse.
“Who’s ready? Angel Dust?”
The old trash-bag/vaporizer “bong” trick is rolled out, “COPS! Cops with DOGS!” bust up a party, and some fairly explicit toilet activity is explored. A dog eats their supply and we see what the dog thinks as she trips.
Just like “Dude” guy comedies. Except for the tampon gags.
As an aficionado of teen comedies going back to John Hughes, let’s just note “Dude” has the most explicit teen sex scene since, oh “thirteen” or “Kids.” Which weren’t comedies.
And then there’s the date rape. Or “The guy was…goal oriented.”
Irresponsible behavior has “limited” consequences. Parents may let you call them by their first name, may swear like longshoremen in front of you, but they’re in charge for a reason.
The big message — “People can be there, if you let them.” — has its merits.
The cast is good, though Awkwafina is the comic heavyweight here and the rest hunt for laughs in her shadow. As this is a Lucy Hale vehicle, most everybody else feels a little short-changed. Shipp’s crack about “our token WHITE friends” is “ironic,” but too too true.
Director/screenwriter (“Ocean’s Eight”) Olivia Milch parks a lot of serious in with the silly, which tends to slam the brakes on any comic momentum the picture aims for. It drifts on, far past its climax.
To quote from the canon, it’s “Pretty in Pink” packed with pieces of “Foxes.” It’s entirely too adult for 15-and-under, in other words.
So even though “Dude” strikes a teens-behaving-badly blow for gender parity, even if it’s every bit as raunchy as most boys-get-blasted comedies of its ilk, its several random laughs don’t build to anything, its deep thoughts are too shallow to uplift the genre, or the age group it might have been aimed at.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with explicit sex, drug abuse, profanity, innuendo
Cast: Lucy Hale, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Kathryn Prescott, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Austin Butler, Jack McBrayer
Credits:Written and directed by Olivia Milch. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:37