Nominated for: Best UK Feature
Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle meets Shrek meets Harry Potter meets Romeo and Juliet. Is that weird enough for you?
No? How about if a boy, fathered by that bloke that isn’t Jack Dee from Lead Balloon and a punk version of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace‘s Dr. Liz Asher, smokes pot with Jerwayne from Phoneshop and receives a magic bean from Pippin of Lord of the Rings fame?
This is AmStarDam, folks.
Across its 105 minute runtime, I was confused, thrilled, and confused again. The Lennox brothers have constructed a British stoner film (can’t say I’ve seen a British version of one before) that had a refreshing fairytale twist, set in the stunning city of Amsterdam. Essentially, the plot is Jack & The Beanstalk, with the protagonist Jack (of course) setting off to find his biological father after his 21st birthday. His dad Mick owns a failing coffee house, which Jack revitalises after being given a magic seed to build a so-called ‘greenstalk’ (brilliant). However, Mick’s old business partner Eddie, owner of the Jolly Green Giant marijuana joint – unsubtle, but still pretty funny, right? – plans to scupper Kalifornia Dreamin’s chances of winning a competition which is a warped version of the Triwizard Tournament. Meanwhile, Jack has a kindling romance with Eddie’s niece Desiree. Wow.
Whilst the first fifteen minutes or so seemed particularly outlandish and strange, when it became obvious that what I was witnessing was an unrealistic fairytale-esque story, the film certainly became far more enjoyable and easy to digest. The directors made some great artistic choices to achieve their original concept: a wonderful voiceover from the mystical Billy Boyd; a score that was whimsical, adding to the childlike vibe and juxtaposing some punk-rock tunes; some musical numbers sung by dwarves, and Amsterdam itself provided the ideal setting for an outerworld experience. The shots of the city were handled with skill by the directors, even if the majority of these frames contained people incessantly smoking multiple joints amongst giant statues of penises.
“a visual delight full of gorgeous scenery, ridiculousness, and weed. An awful lot of weed.”
What unfolded was essentially a hallucinogenic adult pantomime, but it certainly worked. Special mention must go to the unhinged Loz, portrayed perfectly by professional weirdo Eric Lampaert, who was the only character aware of the camera being on him at all times due to his paranoia – a fantastic touch. Elsewhere Eddie, played by Kenneth Collard and the villain of the piece, was suitably odious as a segway-riding Willy Wonka-type prick. A fart joke at his expense was genuinely hilarious: he tokes some reefer that is so darn good that he craps himself and gets his employees to clean him up. So bizarre. An animated sequence detailing a collective drug trip was also pure fun, reminiscent of Tenacious D’s strange video for ‘F*ck Her Gently’, and I wish that the cartoon would have either gone on for longer or been utilised again by the directors.
The lead performance from the young Jonathan Readwin was a bit hit-and-miss, however his new-found relationship with his spaced-out father, played with gusto by Sean Power, was believably touching. Billy Boyd gained the most laughs throughout the film and rightly so, managing to project the pure weirdness of his role emphatically. I mean, he was a magic, pissing, former scientist-cum-blind homeless man. Watch it to believe it. I also couldn’t help but laugh at classic cannabis-related references such as ‘The Hashtronaut’ or ‘Ganja Godfather’. Not sure if I, or the directors, were being ironic though.
In all, AmStarDam doesn’t reinvent the wheel of stoner comedy humour, but making such a bizarre concept and diverse set of influences all work together in tandem is certainly a skill, and the Lennox Brothers have manage to craft a visual delight full of gorgeous scenery, ridiculousness, and weed. An awful lot of weed.
Image: Lee & Wayne Lennox