[Fresh from Kino Lorber] Hughes’ ‘CAREER OPPORTUNITIES’ finds comedy in retail therapy, ‘HALF BAKED’ cements itself as a must-own trippy comedy

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James Clay//Film Critic

CAREER OPPORTUNITIES (1991)

Rated PG-13, 83 minutes.
Director: Bryan Gordon
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney

Available now from Kino Lorber

The surface of the 1991 film CAREER OPPORTUNITIES screams coming-of-age fun. This comedy oozes charm with an eye-grabbing premise, a couple of charismatic leads, and the voice of gen-X himself, John Hughes penning the screenplay. Unfortunately, the rose-colored glasses of yesteryear may get the best of you, so it’s best to temper expectations. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, there’s still something about Bryan Gordon’s film that stands out above other lackluster teen comedies of this era. 

Local smart ass Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley, the “WHAT” guy from PULP FICTION) is getting pummeled by life in his small town. His dad thinks he’s a deadbeat and he’s not that popular at school, but Dodge stays true to the role of the misunderstood class clown. He promptly gets a gig as the night janitor at a local Target, where he gets locked up with the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Connelly). They flirt, make good use of roller skating facilities and set up a buffet made exclusively from the frozen food section. As the good times roll and they make Target their private resort, the two are robbed by a couple of slime balls (Kieran and Dermott Mulroney) who make a late third act entrance.

By 1991 John Hughes’ scripts became lethargic, grasping at a quirky concept that felt bored with reaching its conclusion. At only 83 minutes, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES is long, a little dull, but not without some genuinely spirited performances. Supporting players including William Forsythe, Dermott Mulroney, Barry Corbin, John M. Jackson, and Noble Willingham make an impact. Plus, there’s a cameo from the late great John Candy that’s the best scene in the whole movie. 

RENT/BUY: Personally, despite my issues with the film, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES plays to the nostalgist in me. But this is a beautiful transfer from Kino Lorber that’s bright, clear, and crispy images that still have a little bit of that film grain. There’s a fascinating commentary with film historian Erik Childress and some fun trailers that I won’t spoil here. 

GRADE: C+

HALF BAKED (1998)

Rated R, 84 minutes.
Director: Tamra Davis
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Jim Bruer, Guerillmo Diaz, Clarence Williams III

Available Now From Kino Lorber

Before we start, let’s give a big shout-out to HALF BAKED director Tamra Davis. She was a perennial music video director of the 80s, 90s helming shoots that established an aesthetic all over today’s culture. Working with musicians like Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys (she eventually married Mike D, aka Michael Diamond of the group), The Smiths, and Lemonheads. She’s an undersung inspiration for filmmakers today, essentially making 100 short films before diving into features. She got her start with GUN CRAZY starring Drew Barrymore and James Le Gros, which received an excellent blu ray release late last year as part of the MVD Rewind collection. The filmmaker went on to direct Adam Sandler’s unhinged breakthrough BILLY MADISON, and Britney Spears in CROSSROADS. 

Now onto 1998’s HALF BAKED written and starring Dave Chappelle with his partner Neal Brennan (CHAPELLE’S SHOW). It’s a largely goofy stoner comedy that holds up remarkably well today for a few reasons other than Dave Chappelle’s impeccable timing and high-strung comedic voice. The film has a personality that doesn’t rely on celebrating the lives of its chronically stoned characters, nor does the film take an aggressively judgmental approach to those opposed to its views. With a supporting cast of Jim Bruer (the Grateful Dead stoner), Guermillo Diaz (the angry guy), Harland Williams (the tragically naive stoner) led by Chappelle (the existential stoner), as well as an appearance from the recently departed Clarence Williams III. Along the way dozens of cameos from famous pop culture stoners keep the film lively and spontaneous. The movie has a particular brand of loose and silly comedy that could potentially find new fans with this Kino Lorber release, but it holds up for old-school fans. 

Davis gives the film a pop of color and using framing techniques to make the comedy more visually appealing; marijuana is psychoactive after all. She has a set of skills that allowed her to be one of the very few women directing comedies in the “boys only” era of 90s comedy. 

BUY/RENT: This transfer looks excellent, and the aforementioned colors pop, while the grit and grain of the film stock look great blasted upon my big-screen television. This is an absolute no-brainer and my personal favorite Kino Lorber Studio Classic release of 2021. HALF BAKED comes with a commentary by Davis, some old-school special features from the 2004 DVD release.  

GRADE: A-

Other pieces of Kino that came across my desk: One of my favorite things each month are the announcements for the new Kino Lorber Studio Classics each month. I am always surprised, a little perplexed, but always excited to grow my cinematic horizons. So here are some titles released this month that we didn’t have a chance to get to review.

CB4: A staple of the VHS days with a cover you can’t forget. Chris Rock plays the leader of the hip-hop group CB4 (aka Cell Block 4). The supporting cast of Alan Payne, Chris Elliot, and Phil Hartman let the players improvise and have a great time in the process. Directed again by Tamra Davis, this is perfect for the collection if you’re into 90s comedy. 

TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT: Not sure what came first the movie, the phrase, or the song. But TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT takes the sentiment so many working professionals had in the 80s and turns it into a feature film starring Robert Hays and Barbra Hershey. This is one of those throwbacks that didn’t make a cultural imprint but lives on, thanks to Kino Lorber. 

BODYSLAM: Take one look at this cast and the poster, and you’ll be sold. Three words warrant the price of admission Rowdy Roddy Piper. 

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.