Schlubby and chubby with a shock of curly dark hair, Nate Norman (Jonathan Daniel Brown) is a far cry from your usual movie drug kingpin. A self-described “loser by legacy,” he’s neither charming nor charismatic, a burnout and a dropout. Teaming up with best bro, Topher (Kenny Wormald), Nate hatches a scheme to run pot from British Columbia back to his hometown of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. The story, based on true events and inspired by a 2005 Rolling Stone article by Mark Binelli, is formulaic, and there are few surprises in this rags-to-riches story (things get out of hand, deals go bad, friends turn on friends), but writer-director John Stockwell commits to his hero’s unshakable awkwardness, imbuing his character with the sort of half-baked hubris that often accompanies adolescence.
Nate’s bungled attempts at being suave serve to underscore his juvenile dorkiness. He’s so conspicuously uncool that he’s targeted for a series of full-cavity searches at the border. When he and his gang of dope smugglers sprint through the woods to sneak across the Canadian border, Nate lags behind, out of breath and barely able to keep up. And when he finally does have cash in hand and girls between his arms, he’s candid about the superficiality of his hook-ups; his success has nothing to do with looks or personality.
Ultimately, the conceit seems to be that pot is a gift from the heavens—a medicine, as it’s called, something far less dangerous than the greasy pizzas Nate once hauled for a living. But the film relies too heavily on voiceover, and Nate’s quippy, simile-laden (and frequently rhyming) narration interrupts and impedes the film’s attempts at organic characterization. Stockwell is a bit too insistent that we see Nate as a tragicomedic maverick, a harmless pothead trying to rise above his modest station. He’s always more Mama’s boy than drug kingpin, but Kid Cannabis almost seems to congratulate Nate for his initiative. He’s commended above all for his loyalty and his refusal to turn on his friends, though the film makes it clear that Brown’s character has earned neither the respect nor the gratitude of his handpicked gang of drug runners. The preachy conclusion is somewhat disappointing: Kid Cannabis works best when it shows Nate at his most inept and incapable, rather than elevating him to a pothead martyr.