Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke

Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke. Paramount Pictures 1978.
Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke. Paramount Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t entirely get stoner comedy. No doubt, that’s because it’s the only real contact I have with stoner culture and you’re meant to consume stoner entertainment while stoned, so pretty much anything would be funny. But then there’s an element of making fun of how dulled the cognitive reflexes are while under the influence that would probably be funnier sober, so I guess it’s more about having fun with the lifestyle.

I’m fond of Cheech Marin’s comedy work, though I came in from a very different angle than most people (children’s edutainment). Tommy Chong I’ve really only encountered through Cheech & Chong, apparently because he had a rough time keeping his career afloat after Cheech split off to pursue acting. In most of their work together that I can remember, he seems like, if not the straight man (because high people are funny), the one who was there so Cheech had someone to play off of.

So… road movie about being high. I want to like it, but I can’t come up with much reason to express why.After watching the movie:

A hippy stoner who’s still living with his rich parents decides that since they’re talking about taking corrective action on his bad habits, it’s time to stop living with his rich parents. He drives out and pretty quickly breaks down, picked up by Pedro De Pacas. The two bond quickly over drugs and the fact that the man plays drums and Pedro’s band needs a drummer. After evading a DEA bust and getting rounded up in a deportation set up so Pedro’s cousins can get free travel to a wedding in Mexico, Pedro and the man arrange to borrow Pedro’s uncle’s van to get back to the US. However, they get mixed up about which upholstery shop to pick it up from, and wind up accidentally driving a van made out of plasticized cannabis (“Fiberweed”) designed for smuggling billions of dollars of drugs, with DEA Sergeant Stedenko and his band of buffoon agents on their tail.

The story cares so little about how the duo came to be that it’s a bit surprising it takes the time to establish it, since the plot is just an excuse for Cheech and Chong to do their double act. The man’s parents are seen in one scene and then forgotten. Pedro apparently has a wife and kids, but that’s only referenced once after it’s been established. They form a partnership so readily they seem to have forgotten they only just met by the time they get pulled over just after they met. On the other hand, it gives them an excuse to explain things about themselves to each other, like Pedro expositing about his cousins and connections or not know things about each other, like Pedro remarking about not knowing the man’s name. (It’s Anthony Stoner, but he just goes by “Man”, and I don’t recall it actually being stated anywhere.)

It occurred to me early on that I’ve only heard their voices before, never actually seen them perform together. I didn’t even know what Tommy Chong looked like. I find their visual aesthetic less appealing than the writing, but it was the 70s, which looks ridiculous by now anyway.

There were a lot of jokes I liked. Some I even wasn’t ashamed to like. The visual gag with the man’s car early on comes to mind, as well as a lot of laugh out loud moments with the idiots from the DEA, when it didn’t seem too mean-spirited toward the law.

It feels condescending or arrogant to say that the duds for me were usually the most drug-fueled jokes, but it’s just not what works for me. At least it seems more accessible than what I’ve seen of Dude, Where’s My Car or Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. I had fun, just not as much fun as the target audience did.

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