If you’re interested in Jamie DeWolf’s family background, which you might be aware of, he speaks about it here. This article is about his film Smoked—playing at the Rio Grind Film Fest on Saturday (November 3)—and there’s no need really to bring up his great-grandfather L. Ron Hubbard except to propose that there’s a strand of monstrously creative DNA running through the family, which DeWolf has clearly inherited in spades, and which he has chosen to use—mercifully—for good.
Having said that, his first feature, which he wrote and co-directed with Joshua Staley, is mean, bloody, and demented. It’s also piss-your-pants hilarious, maddeningly nihilistic, oddly sentimental, weirdly moral, extremely silly, and insanely energetic. It’s almost too energetic for the screen, to be honest.
“I’d say that I have an unhealthy zest for life,” DeWolf (who also stars in the film) tells the Straight during a call from his home in Oakland. He also proudly states that Smoked, which is essentially about the wave of mutilation and death that ensues when three dumbasses rob a cannabis club disguised (very badly) as cops, is “kind of what Oakland is like”—an endorsement that isn’t likely to make it into the city’s official PR.
Or maybe the East Bay really is full of orgiastic naked clowns, wanton black revolutionary street executions, crappy ninjas, asshole kids, and seemingly countless hippies being tortured to death.
“There’s a lot of history infused in there,” DeWolf says. “There’s a lot of references to Black Panthers and revolution, and some of that is from my own political beliefs. I’m just not a big fan of hippie ideology. That’s what I think is interesting about Oakland, and just weed in general. Oakland and Berkley are right next to each other and even in the history of these cities, there’s been this certain element of tension, and Oakland has always been viewed as a little more harder edged. That tension, and that kind of ideological war, aggression versus pacifism; it’s just really interesting to explore.”
By explore, DeWolf presumably means exaggerating the dark side of the modern marijuana “industry” to cartoonishly nasty levels. As he notes, in the wake of hip-hop, “weed all of a sudden had this thuggish appeal,” while the proliferation of compassion clubs and other medicinal outlets created a grey zone where everybody on all sides of the law (in the film at least) is fighting, stabbing, shooting, carving, and immolating each other for a piece of the action. Hence Smoked, which was never going to be a stoner comedy. “That’s something that I really fought against,” he says. “I didn’t want people running along, and then they get hungry and eat some brownies.”
All the same, it’s a wildly funny film, with some of the sharpest motherfuckin' dialogue you’ll hear this side of a Quentin Tarantino read-through (I’m still giggling over “You look like a Samoan donut dipped in dogshit”), and an admirably blunt take on the political history of the so-called drug war. DeWolf, to steal a line from the film, “flips the script” at some point, and Smoked becomes more about the gangster kingpin Tyrone Shank than the three hapless small-timers who get the murder ball rolling in the first place.
This is where the incredible L. Abdul Kenyatta comes in. Drawn like most of the cast from the spoken word community, Kenyatta’s magnetism is so strong that he turns the most cold-blooded character in the film into a kind of hero—one who sees his own criminal pursuits through the prism of class warfare. Shank calls himself a “true motherfuckin’ revolutionary,” and frequently talks about competing with the CIA for business and targeting rich white folk for addiction.
“He’s a phenomenal guy,” DeWolf says of Kenyatta, “and he’s been my friend for a while, but he’s an original OG. Without going too much into his personal history, let us just say that he is well familiar with many of those monologues. We wanted him to be more than just a token black kingpin character, and lot of that is very, very true. He’s sort of the gravity of the entire movie to me.”
Indeed, between DeWolf’s hardboiled dialogue and the music Kenyatta makes out of it, Smoked becomes more than just a wild, if highly entertaining exercise in total offense.
“The main characters are idiots,” says DeWolf. “But he’s talking about real shit.”
Smoked plays at the Rio Grind Film Fest on Saturday (November 3)
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.