Smiley Face

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AUSTIN -- Is it possible to make a stoner comedy without a pair of buddies at the heart of it? Yes, as Gregg Araki's "Smiley Face" demonstrates. Is it advisable? That's a debatable question not quite resolved by an intermittently funny day-in-the-life that should do well with the drug-humor core audience but is unlikely to break into "Harold & Kumar" territory.

In a big shift from Araki's icky "Mysterious Skin," the picture hasn't a shred of interest in probing psyches or social ills. A pure, mostly dumb comedy, it's the tale of one impossibly out-of-it girl, Anna Faris' Jane F., who spends her day stumbling from mishap to mishap in an effort to avoid her drug dealer's wrath.

She encounters a string of familiar faces along the way, but few stick around long enough to take any weight off Faris, whose performance relies heavily on a hanging-open mouth, droop-lidded eyes and long periods of dumbstruck silence. Some viewers will embrace this textbook caricature; for others, it will make the film's 87 minutes feel like hours.

Jane, who smokes her share to begin with, has accidentally eaten a tray of pot-laced cupcakes that her roommate ("That '70s Show's" Danny Masterson, not the only actor known for pothead roles who plays sober here) is saving for a sci-fi convention. She knows she has to make him a new batch, and she also needs to pay the electric bill in time to make an audition. She tries to string these chores together into a plan, but getting past Step 1 presents an insurmountable challenge.

Inadvisably leaving her house, Jane stumbles through encounters with the straight world, trying to round up enough cash to placate her dealer. Most of the episodes add to her troubles, and by the tale's end she has a posse tracking her to Venice Beach. (One led by John Krasinski of "The Office," who wears a prosthetic nose and plays a love-struck nerd.) At one point, she gets some help from Harold himself, John Cho -- whose appearance might be an unwelcome reminder of how much pot comedies benefit from a buddy setup's dumb-and-dumber chemistry.

Even so, the movie's best gags do work entirely within the heroine's head: Her Homer Simpson-like slowness in putting together the obvious pieces of an escape route, her Marxist lecture in a meat-packing plant and an inspired plan for a "meta" joke involving a presidential portrait. Viewers who don't tire of Faris' "I'm sooooo stoned" shtick within the first 20 minutes should enjoy the ride. Chances are, they'll be in a condition to forget it quickly, then enjoy it again and again on DVD.

SMILEY FACE
First Look Pictures
First Look Pictures/Anonymous Content/Desperate Pictures
Credits:
Director: Gregg Araki
Screenwriter: Dylan Haggerty
Producers: Henry Winterstern, Kevin Turen, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Gregg Araki
Executive producers: Jorg Westerkamp, Thomas Becker, Stuart Burkin, H. Jason Beck
Director of photography: Shawn Kim
Production designer: John Larena
Music: David Kitay
Co-producer: Hans C. Ritter
Costume designer: Alix Hester
Editor: Gregg Araki
Cast:
Jane F.: Anna Faris
Steve the Roommate: Danny Masterson
Steve the Dealer: Adam Brody
Brevin: John Krasinski
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating
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