Viking Night: Up in Smoke
By Bruce Hall
June 9, 2015
In many respects, history has not been kind to Cheech and Chong. I know some people who look at Cheech and Chong as akin to something like Land of the Lost. To them, it’s nonsensical, clearly drug induced madness that belongs stuck in the 70s with plaid bellbottoms, unleaded gas and unelected Presidents. I tried to watch Land of the Lost recently, and sure enough, it sucks plaid bellbottoms. But I also watched Up in Smoke again for the first time since high school and much to my surprise, it’s still pretty damn funny. Not only that, but it’s at least as funny as the countless franchises who owe their existence to it. Before Harold and Kumar, before Jay and Silent Bob, and before either Bill or Ted - there was Cheech and Chong.
For just a little while back in the day, a very unique couple of guys put together a very unique comedy act that played a big part in taking urban comedy mainstream AND made the best stoner movie of all time, except for Reefer Madness. But where Reefer Madness was made by people who clearly had no idea what marijuana does, Up in Smoke is the work of professionals. This isn’t just the granddaddy of all stoner flicks; it eats, sleeps and breathes the sweet leaf - I’m pretty sure the movie was even photographed on some kind of hemp derived film stock.
It’s not about a couple of guys who smoke too much weed and have wacky adventures. It’s about weed. And for the most part, it’s actually hilarious. Don’t let that low Rotten Tomatoes score fool you. Up in Smoke is no longer cutting edge material but it doesn’t feel dated so much as it feels familiar. Unless you can watch this with an unjaded eye, you’re going to see right past the good stuff. I’m not trying to advocate excessive drug use or anything, but let’s be real here. Reefer Madness was way off. Pot doesn’t turn you into a psychotic, sex crazed murder machine, it turns you into a lazy, oblivious moron. And those are most of the words necessary to describe Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin) and Anthony “The Man” Stoner (Tommy Chong).
Pedro is a (supposedly) streetwise singer in a part-time band who feels overwhelmed by things like "paying bills" and "having a job." Man is an equally unmotivated aspiring drummer who's been living at home way too long. They both respond their encroaching responsibilities by getting stupendously high and dreaming of the untold riches that await them at the bottom of each Doritos bag. Pedro picks up Man hitchhiking, and the latter shares a burrito-sized joint in gratitude. This leads to a DUI arrest, which is overturned on a technicality. The two celebrate freedom by joining forces to live their shared dream and win battle of the bands.
But first, they need to score some weed.
This leads them to Strawberry (Tom Skerritt) Pedro's PTSD afflicted dealer, who happens to be under surveillance by an opportunistic police Sergeant called Stedenko (Stacy Keach). What makes that funny is that Stedenko is as hysterical about his hatred of marijuana as Cheech and Chong are about their advocacy. Stedenko is a self-important go-getter who thinks marijuana will bring about the destruction of the human race. He probably wrote the screenplay to Reefer Madness. He’s driven, motivated and probably knows exactly how many hairs are in his awesome cop moustache. Pedro and The Man probably bathe once a week and you could probably get high just shaking hands with them. Unfortunately, Stedenko is surrounded by a hilariously incompetent team of nitwits, leading to some Wile E. Coyote style bad luck as Pedro and The Man inadvertently elude them by just walking out of frame every time the hammer starts to come down.