At the Denver premiere of “Super Troopers 2” on Sunday, the giddy crowd inside the Sie FilmCenter was treated to not one but two surprises: a trio of cast members from the film’s creative team, the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, and some brief words from co-executive producers Kayvan Khalatbari and Andy Juett.
The latter was particularly telling of the film’s stoner pedigree — which extends to its national premiere on April 20, a.k.a. the unofficial stoner holiday of 4/20.
Not only was Denver the first major city to embrace legal, recreational weed early five years ago, but Khalatbari and Juett — who run Denver-based Sexpot Comedy, which enjoys a prominent, pink-hued logo in the “Super Troopers 2” credits — also overlap heavily with the cannabis world.
So when Broken Lizard needed help finishing “Super Troopers 2” following an unexpectedly robust but still-too-short crowdfunding campaign, director Jay Chandrasekhar turned to a pair who had equal footing in the weed and comedy realms.
“I’m really excited that it’s finally happening,” Khalatbari said after posing for photos with the cast and Denver co-producer Nick Hice on the film’s red carpet. “We got involved almost a year and a half ago, and it’s been amazing to see the process from start to finish.”
The event also provided valuable, on-brand PR for Khalatbari, who is challenging Mayor Michael Hancock in the May 2019 election and has raised more funds than the embattled Hancock this year. Khalatbari, who made his money with the Sexy Pizza chain before co-founding the Denver Relief dispensary (and, now, consulting group), was quick to strike the sort of unprompted, wonky tone befitting an elected official.
“It’s really important for Denver and Colorado to start investing again in film,” he said, referencing the rocky time the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media has had in securing funds for film-related state tax incentives. “It’s something we’ve completely divested in, and anything we can do that brings attention to the city and encourages people that are inclined to invest in it, the better. I hope we can catch fire with some of that here.”
Also potentially catching fire: Actual marijuana in the WeedStream trailer in the Sie’s parking lot that night — a modified Airstream trailer where the cast did interviews, and the public could hang out and legally get high before the screening.
While Fox Searchlight Pictures brought the trailer to the Sie, Khalatbari has been using his own connections to market the film.
“As investors, we did some things to help integrate ‘Super Troopers 2’ into the cannabis industry, with Denver Relief Consulting having reach in pretty much every legal (cannabis) state in the country,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity there to promote film that is obviously associated with cannabis and opening on 4/20 — especially after 17 years since the original. People are ready.”
As a sequel to the 2001 cult stoner-comedy about bumbling, profane, practical-joke-loving Vermont state troopers, “Super Troopers 2” languished for years due to difficulty in securing financing, even as the script underwent dozens of rewrites to more densely layer the rapid-fire jokes. The original was made for just over $1 million and did middling business at the box office, but has gone on to become a dorm-room classic thanks to home video and streaming.
That means the sequel has a lot to live up to — including an incredibly high reputation among stoners.
“We invited our friend Doug Benson, the stoner comedian, to the premiere because we thought he’d be the barometer of how funny it was — for a guy who’s perpetually stoned, and a stoner-movie aficianado,” said Broken Lizard’s Paul Soter. “Did we capture the same spirit in the second one? Then we saw him a couple days later and were having a conversation about it, and he didn’t get a reference to a line in the movie. We were like, ‘Remember, that’s what we say in the opening scene?’ And he goes, “Aw, I was at the snack bar.’ “
The crowd at the Sie FilmCenter on Sunday was not quite so breezy. Some of the fans had whole swaths of the original film memorized, judging by the quotes overheard in conversation. Most hustled into the theater long before the start time.
“The original came out when I was 13 and I snuck into it with friends at the Olde Town Arvada theater,” said Elise Kerns. “The thing that makes me feel great about (the sequel) was that the Sexpot dudes were involved in it.”
That helps, but it’s not everything, said Soter — who plays the character Carl in “Super Troopers 2” — during a pre-screening interview at the Curtis Hotel.
“For us it’s about: Will people show up in the theater for a sequel to a movie they only ever watched on their couch?” he said. “We’ve never had a movie do more than $7 million on opening weekend.”
Other Broken Lizard comedies, such as 2004’s “Club Dread” and 2006’s “Beerfest,” opened against big movies (“Club Dread” against “The Passion of the Christ”) or were rushed in their promotion (“Beerfest’s” unusually short, one-month campaign), according to Broken Lizard’s Steve Lemme, who plays Mac.
“And that metric has capped our careers and our ability to get other stuff made,” Soter added. “For us, it feels like everything comes down to this. It’s become a referendum on whether we’re a viable Hollywood commodity, or whether we’re destined to be these weird cult guys who live in the shadows of the industry.”
“We really are a mom-and-pop shop,” Lemme said, noting the 54,000 people who contributed to the film’s Indiegogo campaign. “The fans showed up to make this, and without them it wouldn’t exist. But we need more than 54,000 people to show up this weekend.”
That explains Broken Lizard’s relentless road trip to promote the movie, which continued on to Chicago after the Denver premiere Sunday.
So will it be another cult classic? That’s not up to the filmmakers, Soter said.
“Until you see it with an audience, you never know which (scenes) are really sparking. We’ve done 15 or 16 preview screenings at this point and it’s been fun to see those patterns come through,” he said. “You’re seeing which moments, and which scenes, are really knockin’ ’em dead.”
“And you can’t pre-engineer those,” said Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan, who plays fan-favorite character Farva, noting that the best Broken Lizard can do is try to make its own members laugh, and just hope audiences agree with them.
“It’s like trying to predict viral videos,” he said. “You would drive yourself mad doing that.”
True. But you can also stack the deck by getting really, really high before watching.
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