Friday, May 24, 2013

Up in Smoke (1978)

          Since blazing doobies has never been one of my pastimes, it’s no surprise that most of the jokes in Cheech and Chong’s first movie, Up in Smoke, leave me cold—there’s a fine line between buzzed silliness and infantile stupidity, and I’m not hip enough to live on the plugged-in side of that line. So when I say that Up in Smoke is a brisk but forgettable compendium of lame gags, I acknowledge that the movie’s probably a different experience when consumed by folks who groove on the ganja. For instance, I’m sure some people find the movie’s ridiculous climax to be high-larious (emphasis on the high), because Cheech Marin dresses in a tutu and shreds an acid-rock guitar solo in front of a nightclub audience that’s wasted on pot fumes while, outside the club, narcs dressed as Hari Krishnas wrestle with epic munchies because they’re inhaling the same wafts of wacky tobacky. To each their own, man.
          Extrapolated from Cheech and Chong’s popular stand-up act about two laid-back stoners who get hassled by The Man, the movie’s plot has a certain amiable rebelliousness. Marin plays Pedro De Pacas, a wisecracking horndog who’s always looking for a good time. Tommy Chong plays Anthony “Man” Stoner, a rich kid-turned-wastoid who occasionally works as a rock drummer. The characters meet on a highway one afternoon, then get wasted and embark on a quest to score fresh weed. A mix-up gets the duo deported to Tijuana, where they find work driving a car back to the U.S. Unbeknownst to them, however, the car is built entirely of pot, so they’re muling for dealers. This puts our heroes in the crosshairs of Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach), an absurdly uptight L.A. cop who’s jonesing to make a big drug bust. The main joke of the movie is that Pedro and Man are so loaded they never realize they’re in danger, and the whole goofy storyline climaxes with a battle of the bands at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip. Producer-director Lou Adler, Cheech and Chong’s longtime manager, owns the Roxy, and his music-biz background lends enjoyable authenticity to the picture’s concert scenes.
          As actors, neither Chong nor Marin is remarkable, though Marin has a likeable vibe and terrific timing, and the duo’s dynamic was quite smooth by the time they made Up in Smoke. Keach kicks the film up a notch by channeling his signature intensity into a cartoonish role, so it’s fun to see him playing juvenile scenes like reacting to someone pissing on his leg in a men’s room. (This actually happens twice, which gives a sense of how tired the jokes get.) Tom Skerritt plays a loopy cameo as a whacked-out Vietnam vet, and the film’s various supporting players lend exuberance if not necessarily great skill. The script, predictably, is an episodic collage of comedy bits, and Adler’s direction is competent, with blandly shot scenes juiced by a bouncy score built around the classic War jam “Low Rider.”

Up in Smoke: FUNKY


Tommy Ross said...

OMG. it's been SO long since I've seen this, I'm going to have to see if I can find a cheap copy on Amz, thanks Peter!

Hal said...

The most fun of Cheech and Chong's films overall, but the first four are pretty interchangeable.

Keach's Stedanko becomes a lot less uptight in C&C'S NICE DREAMS, which won't make the cut on this site since it didn't arrive until 1981. Fits right in with the UP IN SMOKE vibe though, with a guest appearance by Dr. Timothy Leary.