What always impresses me about indy/art film is the attempt. There’s an attempt to communicate ideas, themes—a perspective. Indy films take chances. They put themselves out there, not trying to be the next mindless popcorn type of movie Hollywood seems locked into these days. But one thing Hollywood still can do well is tell a riveting story; Hollywood can still entertain you even if you aren’t doing much thinking in the process. And what indy films often fail to do is to entertain while informing.
Let’s compare the indy film under consideration in this review to a Hollywood smash success, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” Both concern a pair of slackers who go in search of vice. In “Welcome to Dopeland,” our heroes are in search of drugs (Oxycontin) as opposed to hamburgers. Along the way, they meet a variety of bizarre characters and have mini adventures within the big adventure. It’s not where you’re going, it’s how you get there—or so goes the trite phrase.
“Welcome to Dopeland” has big ideas about mass media, consumerism, corporatism, and our plastic society. But its narrative is flat and not terribly entertaining. Harold and Kumar had nothing intelligent to impart, but gosh darn it if it was not entertaining as hell with great laughs and a story that winged me along and kept me engaged for two hours (and the Harvard PhD who saw it with me would agree).
In the long line of road tandems (Crosby and Hope, Martin and Lewis, Farley and Spade), in Welcome to Dopeland, we have Mac and Bobby who are in search of a high as the world is about to end. The aforementioned duos are a lot to live up to, and Mac and Bobby don’t quite have the chemistry that would place them with such elite company. Mac is simply surly and unexpressive throughout, while Bobby manages to be the most engaging character as he proselytizes, sermonizes, and wanders in and out of dream-states; he’s a slightly more blithe version of the protagonist in Mike Leigh’s Naked.
The director of “Welcome to Dopeland” is Len Dell’Amico, best known as a video and concert-movie director. Dell’Amico has worked with an impressive list of musicians, from The Grateful Dead to Ray Charles to The Allman Brothers Band. This influence can be felt in some of the film’s psychedelic moments, but in truth the latter half of the movie reminded me more of Fellini than Altamont. It was La Dolce Vita or Amarcord set in the mountains of California, though not up to the standards of the master, Italian magical realist.
At our megaplex, as we see yet another in a string of Transformers or Paranormal Activities, indy films like “Welcome to Dopeland” must be admired and saluted for attempting to move and educate us. If only they could be a bit more fun to watch.