It’s hard to determine exactly what Newlyweeds wants to accomplish, but it’s plain to see that it fails. The movie presents an utterly baffling view of marijuana use that swings from lazy pot comedy to overcooked melodrama to absurd after-school special. Even the title makes no sense.
The absence of any laughs is annoying. The lack of a coherent tone or theme is downright infuriating.
Amari Cheatom stars as Lyle, a repo man who’s so incompetent that, early in the film, he repossess the wrong person’s couch. If he’s not getting high, he’s thinking about the big blunt waiting for him after work. His girlfriend, Nina (Trae Harris), also loves to light up, and works as a guide at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. She got her job to earn money to travel the world—she wants to go to the Galapagos. It’s unclear why she didn’t need or want a job regardless of travel plans, seeing as Lyle’s career probably doesn’t leave much disposable income. Nina holds her life together better than Lyle, but that isn’t much of an accomplishment.
Nina and Lyle don’t treat each other very well—maybe because they smoke marijuana? Like the film’s visual style, it’s all rather murky. The movie isn’t observant enough to offer an insightful character study, and the characters aren’t compelling enough to propel it from episode to episode.
Writer/director Shaka King portrays Brooklyn by amping-up the warm tones and shooting on neighborhood streets, but any chance of a shot proving memorable or hip is undermined by a lack of clarity. The stylistic limitations are made painfully clear when Lyle dreams that he’s in a 1970s blaxploitation film. The shots, color and look of this fantasy fail to replicate the genre it’s supposed to be parodying. There’s also little in terms of actual humor in the dream, as if the concept alone passes as funny.
The inability to lock on a tone is a large part of the film’s downfall. There’s no tongue-in-cheek spirit to suggest humor in the out-of-nowhere developments that pop up late in the film. I want to believe that no one thought anyone would take Newlyweeds seriously, but there’s no suggestion of parody as the film stumbles through absurd developments that would be at home in propaganda exploitation films like Reefer Madness (1936). The trite don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-till-it’s-gone romance angle doesn’t help either.
If Newlyweeds is to be applauded for anything, it’s the attempt to take a marijuana comedy to a darker place than the likes of Harold and Kumar or Cheech and Chong. But greater ambitions require a greater effort. Like it’s characters, the filmmakers appear content to laze around rather than think about how to distinguish themselves.
Director: Shaka King
Writer: Shaka King
Starring: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Tonya Pinkins, Colman Domingo, Hassan Johnson, Adrien Martinez, Anthony Chisholm
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2013