Up in Smoke (1978) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive drug use, language, sexuality and brief nudity
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Zane Busby, Tom Skerritt, Mills Watson, Karl Johnson, Rick Beckner, Ann Wharton
Director: Lou Adler
Screenplay: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong
Review published March 25, 2005
While I'd be the last person to ever recommend a film just because it depicted drugs as fun times, funny is funny, no matter what the perspective. Up In Smoke is the first and best of the Cheech & Chong movies, brilliantly transforming some of the best skits the subversive comedy duo had performed on album over the previous decade and injected into a major motion picture. Although there was more to their comedy than just drugs, the movie would become legendary, making them synonymous with pot humor from then on. Needless to say, they had the market pretty much cornered, becoming favorites of potheads and non-potheads alike, and together, the two stoners would craft one of the most laugh-out-loud funny films of the late 1970s.
Pedro De Pacas (Cheech Marin, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) pick up a hitchhiker (Tommy Chong, The Wash) one day, who happens to be the drummer he might be looking for to be in his band. The two share more than music as a passion -- they are both raging potheads who live to get high. On their tail is Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach, Brewster McCloud), an overly zealous narcotics officer who will do just about anything to take down drug offenders. Meanwhile, the newly formed stoner friends embark on a series of misadventures, which sees them in Mexico and in a punk rock battle of the bands, among other things.
Be prepared for lowbrow humor and nonstop drug references, as Up in Smoke plays everything to the hilt in questionable taste. As long as you're tuned into it, this is surprisingly smart and incisive in its insights, with some very quotable lines and memorable scenes throughout. Cheech and Chong have terrific chemistry, always staying within character, and riffing perfectly off each other without ever seeming too dumb or going for obvious gags. Stacy Keach plays hothead Stedenko perfectly, and though he had played mostly dramatic roles in the past, he shows here that he is quite funny in his own right.
Needless to say, this is definitely not a film for everyone. Those who don't enjoy pot humor or comedies which revolve around some dimwitted characters will probably not find much here to keep their interest. However, taken on its own terms, it works quite well, and at 85 minutes, it doesn't outstay its welcome. The first half is a bit funnier than the last, but the comedic momentum never really comes to a halt. Sadly, Cheech & Chong would end up using their best material for this movie, and subsequent films would only offer second and third-rate regurgitations, while also injecting even more sex, drugs and tacky humor.
Up in Smoke is the quintessential stoner comedy. Hardly a plot, barely cohesive, and will have you laughing despite yourself -- it's just like any movie about the pot experience should be like.
©2005 Vince Leo