Cheech and Chong Burn Out

Up in Smoke directed by Lou Adler at the Sack Charles

STONED PEOPLE WILL laugh at almost anything. You can make them giggle by stumbling around, and crack them up completely by falling down. Comedy team Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong are clearly counting on the undiscerning tastes of high audiences to save their new movie, Up in Smoke, from the outright failure it deserves. The ads for the movie warn you not to go "straight" to see this movie, but if you have any semblance of rational thought left in your head by the time you hit the theater you'll undoubtedly look around and wonder why you wasted good money to see this film.

Not that dope and all that goes with it is not potentially funny--far from it. Yet Cheech and Chong, who wrote as well as starred in the movie, just don't seem to know how to tap the possible sources of humor. The laughs are too easy, too cheap, too shallow--it seems as if they got high one day and wrote up the movie in a couple of hours, but forgot to double check and see if it was funny when they regained their normal states of consciousness. All the obvious jokes are there--people stumbling around, people eating huge amounts of food due to "munchies," stoned people in a car swallowing all their drugs to prevent the police from finding the evidence, innumerable puns on the word "shit"--and they are run by you time and again in a desperate attempt to get laughs. Yok yok. It turns out that making jokes about grass is much the same as smoking it--too much and you fall asleep.

To be fair, there are a few good scenes in the movie and even an attempted plot. In fact, there's probably even enough material for a good ten minute short. As the film opens, Pedro (Cheech) rises from his couch as his kids play on him, around him, under him. Staggering into the bathroom, he begins to urinate, and upon closer examination finds that what he thought was the toilet is the clothes hamper. Immediately the tone of the whole movie is set.

After he goes outside and begins to drive his car, Pedro finds a hitch-hiker on the highway who appears to have large breasts. Alas, it is only a bearded hippie (Chong) who has stuffed two hemispheres under his shirt to get a ride. The conversation goes something like this:

"Hey, man, you ain't no woman."


"No man."

"Ah, shit man, dats false advertising, man."

"Hey, man, it's the only way I could get a ride."

"Shit, man."

"Hey, you wanna smoke some grass, man?"

"Yeah, man."

And so they get stoned. Obviously when a movie gets off to such a fast start it has a hard time maintaining its peak of humor.

ANYWAY, CHEECH AND CHONG spend a lot of time driving around Los Angeles freeways, smoking dope, urinating, saying "Man," and looking for women. In the meantime they start a rock band and win a contest at the Roxy, get deported to Tijuana, avoid several attempted busts, drive a large green van entirely built out of marijuana across the border to Beverly Hills, and smoke a lot of dope. They dominate the movie, wooden as they are, by refusing to put any other characters in the film, using instead a loosely constructed set of stereotypes and caricatures to fill up the screen. There are the bad old cops trying to bust the dope smokers, but the police are incredible bumblers who wind up arresting a group of nuns in a station wagon at the border and then telling tasteless priest-nun jokes. There are the druggies, who ingest anything not nailed down. One woman snorts a whole plateful of Ajax and loves it. There is the half-crazy Vietnam veteran who suddenly has a psychotic fit and attacks the Viet Cong hiding in his house. There is the huge Chicano family, the black hustler. There is also the audience, which is falling asleep in the theater.

Cheech and Chong used to be funny. Some of their earlier records, for example, contained well-thought out skits executed professionally, and people laughed because they were genuinely funny. Sister Mary Elephant, for example, will live on. But somewhere along the line Cheech and Chong decided the easy way to make a fast buck was with a movie like Up in Smoke, encouraging their audience to get stoned enough to lose sight of the unfunny, inane, dull quality of the film in the smokey haze.

Up in Smoke had a few hits too many: it vegges out and should be led, without severe reproach, to the nearest bed where it can lie peacefully, bothering no one. If you really want to spend eight bucks and have a merry old time laughing about all those funny situations that you get into when you smoke dope, then buy yourself a few joints and have fun without ever leaving your room. Up in Smoke got burned out before it even got started.

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