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Vancouver Island-grown film Kid Cannabis fuelled by irony

Director’s style, local scenery help Kid Cannabis rise above the common cliché

There are many amusing sequences in Kid Cannabis, but one sure to resonate with local viewers is when teenaged drug smuggler Nate Norman has his The Wizard of Oz moment.

When Nate realizes he has successfully snuck across the border from Idaho into B.C., he utters his twist on “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy’s declaration after landing in Oz.

“Kilometres! We’re in Canada, man!” says the pudgy pothead, spotting a “Maximum 30 km/hour” sign on the side of the road after a long wilderness trek.

The road depicting a patch of the Kootenays en route to Creston was one of several locations near Prospect Lake, including the lakefront home of producer Corey Large’s family, where in the summer of 2012 writer-director John Stockwell shot his true-life drama about the chubby high school dropout and pizza delivery boy who built a multimillion-dollar pot-trafficking empire.

Half the fun of watching movies filmed here is spotting familiar locations. Kid Cannabis, which opens today in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto and debuts as a new Video-on-Demand release on iTunes and through Rogers and Shaw, has plenty, including the former Monty’s strip club, Roadhouse Pub and Smith Bros. Foundry and Machine Works.

The timing for the film that less-than-subtly advocates the decriminalization of pot is ideal, opening two days before the annual 4/20 cannabis culture celebration day.

As impressive a feat as it was for Large to persuade his partners to choose the capital region as the sole location for Stockwell’s film inspired by Mark Binelli’s 2005 Rolling Stone piece, Kid Cannabis stands on its own, with more going for it than just recognizable visuals and big production values achieved on a shoestring.

His homegrown film is to weed what The Wolf of Wall Street was to securities fraud and corruption, complete with its unrepentant protagonist’s swaggering voiceover and a rising number of scantily clad girls, guns and drugs in the picture as the Coeur d’Alene entrepreneur and self-described loser persuasively played by Jonathan Daniel Brown becomes a cocky drug kingpin.

Although Stockwell goes too far while preaching to the converted — “It’s just pot,” says Nate’s teary-eyed mom (Amanda Tappping), who had turned a blind eye to what gave Nate enough money to buy her a waterfront home, when he surrenders to authorities to protect her — Kid Cannabis is also infused with irony that filmgoers pushing for legalization will appreciate.

While Large doesn’t smoke pot himself, the film’s Victoria-born producer was struck by the irony of a 19-year-old kid getting a 12-year sentence with no chance of parole for a decade “for selling some weed” while the real “wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort, “does just 22 months in a country club” after defrauding hundreds of clients.

While much of what transpires in Kid Cannabis is by-the-numbers, Stockwell jazzes up the material with nifty camerawork, slick editing, sharp pacing and fine performances from Brown and Kenny Wormald as Topher, his pal and partner-in-crime who helps him recruit a motley crew of youthful drug-runners (including Large’s cousins Kieran Large and Andrew Cavin) as “cannabis camels.”

Stockwell’s style helps the film rise above some obvious clichés and cringeworthy narration, as when Nate confesses: “I had my head so far up my ass even National Geographic couldn’t find it.”

The rags-to-riches drama’s chief assets include its pervasive irony, as when a knowing B.C. highway patrol officer, after pulling Nate and Topher over, suggests they head to Nelson if they’re seeking serious weed, or when the wife of John Grefard, a fanatical marijuana grower and user, says she’s glad her husband quit his “nasty habit” — smoking two packs of cigarettes each day.

One of the film’s highlights is the great character actor John C. McGinley’s killer performance as this eccentric supplier and family man whose near-religious devotion to the high-grade weed he cultivates is amusingly obvious when he practically makes love to a plant while doing his sales pitch — “Look at that thick stem ... that tight bud cluster.”

The other scene-stealer is Ron Perlman, surprisingly restrained yet menacing as Barry Lerner, a smooth, big-time foreign drug dealer with a chain of cellphone stores as his cover.

Both actors flew here just long enough to shoot their minor scenes with major impact, adhering to Large’s practice of making his films more salable by mixing name actors with newcomers.

Other familiar faces include Aaron Yoo as Nate’s rival druglord Brendan Butler; Large as hitman Giovanni Mendiola; Lochlyn Munro as a pot-loving playboy; and Dylan Schmid as a small-town punk.

“These are all very chill guys, and John [Stockwell] is very chill,” said Large, explaining why the Kid Cannabis shoot here was so mellow.

“It wasn’t just because it’s about weed.”

McGinley noted appearances could be deceiving when we caught up with him on a balmy August afternoon on set.

“I’m Mr. Preparation,” he said, noting he spent two weeks preparing for his small role as the pot grower on a Prospect Lake estate and at a secret local grow-op cast and crew were shuttled to.

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