'Dark Harvest': Film Review

Dark Harvest- Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of Portland Film Festival
Strong performances and compelling atmosphere make up for the overly convoluted plotting.

James Hutson plays a marijuana dealer whose operation is threatened by a murder investigation in this crime drama marking his directorial debut.

The increasingly popular marijuana legalization movement adds an intriguing sociological element to the gritty B-movie crime drama Dark Harvest. This debut feature by veteran actor James Hutson (Insomnia, Reindeer Games) — which he also scripted and stars in — doesn't exactly break any new cinematic ground. But the film, which recently received its world premiere at the Portland Film Festival, is taut and engrossing. As a side bonus, it offers longtime Cheech & Chong fans the welcome opportunity to once again see Cheech Marin smoking a joint onscreen. 

The iconic comedian plays it totally straight in this gritty effort, delivering a superb, understated supporting turn as the friend and mentor of Carter Holmes (Hutson), a longtime successful pot dealer who wants to become a legal marijuana grower when an impending legalization law goes into effect.

But things get complicated when he's robbed of a stash worth a quarter million dollars and one of his best friends is murdered. Investigating the crime is veteran cop Bernie (A.C. Peterson), who blames Carter for setting a bear trap that nearly cost him his leg during a raid. When Bernie is suspected by his colleagues of being involved in the murder, he kidnaps Carter and forces him to help find the actual killer. And the story only gets more complicated from there.

As the above description indicates, the tyro director/screenwriter has tried too hard to invest the proceedings with the sort of film-noir plot convolutions that are annoyingly difficult to follow. But he makes up for it with his strong performance as the anti-hero. Among the movie's other assets are the effectively dark atmosphere, accentuated by Ryan Petey's striking cinematography, and the excellent supporting turns by Marin and Peterson, the latter compelling as the overweight, raspy-voiced and thoroughly unlikable cop.

Although it never manages to transcend its genre conventions, Dark Harvest, which would have been perfectly at home as the second half of a double feature in an old 42nd Street grindhouse, effectively holds its own against the similar B-movie exercises commonly seen on late-night cable.

Venue: Portland Film Festival
Production companies: Moon Chariot Films, Greendale Productions
Cast: James Hutson, A.C. Peterson, Cheech Marin, Hugh Dillon, Tygh Runyan, Chelsey Reist
Director-screenwriter: James Hutson
Producers: James Hutson, Marc Petey, Ryan Petey, Tygh Runyan, Chad Barager, P. Lynn Johnson, Tim Laplante
Director of photography: Ryan Petey
Production designers: Gary Ferguson, Cheryl Pierce
Editors: Aram Coen, Zach Steele
Costume designer: Nicole La Greca
Composer: Aiko Fukushima
Casting: Lynne Carrow

Not rated, 87 minutes