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Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke: Special Collector’s Edition DVD Review

Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke: Special Collector’s Edition

December 18, 2007

Director: Lou Adler,
Starring: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Tom Skerritt, Edie Adams, Strother Martin, Stacy Keach,

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DVD Review

Before there was Bill and Ted, before Wayne and Garth, before The Dude, there were the original pothead slackers, Cheech and Chong. This comedy duo got their start on the stand-up circuit in 1970s which they parlayed into a series of very successful comedy albums and ended up cornering the market on stoner comedy. The next natural step was to make movies. They had already been a team for ten years prior to their feature film debut in Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978). It was predictably vilified by the critics but a huge hit at the box office, paving the way for several more films.

As soon as the opening groove of “Low Rider” by War comes on the soundtrack, you are instantly transported back to the ‘70s as Pedro (Marin) spruces up his beaten-up pimpmobile, appropriately nicknamed “Love Machine.” He’s driving along the freeway when he spots what appears to be a busty hitchhiker but turns out to be Anthony (Chong), a musician who’s bailed from his high society home to kick start his career. They quickly bond over a monster joint of marijuana-laced Labrador dog poop. Pedro and Anthony soon run afoul of the cops and try to get a band together.

They end up looking for some pot and staying one step ahead of the cops. They hook up with a dealer named Strawberry (Skerritt cast wonderful against type), a Vietnam War veteran who is still experiencing the war, and Anthony inadvertently gets a woman to snort Ajax cleaner (she assumes its cocaine). Her reaction is priceless. Stacy Keach plays the square, undercover cop (who attire would inspire Herb Tarlek’s fashion sense on WKRP in Cincinnati) intent on busting Pedro and Anthony and their van made entirely out of pot.

Like any good counter-culture comedy, Up in Smoke continually thumbs its nose at authority figures and the establishment, be it narcs or nuns. The film also successfully took Cheech and Chong’s shtick from their stand-up and records and put it on the big screen, including a restaging of one of their classic bits, “Earache My Eye.” The success of this film would lead to two more installments of an informal stoner trilogy that included Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie (1980) and Cheech & Chong’s Nice Dreams (1981). While tame by today’s gross-out movie standards, it is refreshing amiable and a fascinating snapshot of the times during which it was made.

Special Features:

The original DVD edition of this film featured an audio commentary and deleted scenes, both of which are carried over to this new edition.

The commentary is by Cheech Marin and director Lou Adler. These two old friends laugh and reminisce about making the film. Cheech points out which bits (i.e. peeing in the laundry bin) were based on real-life experience and their “tribute” to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. This is a fun, relaxed track although it would have been nice to have had Tommy Chong’s input even if only a separate track edited in.

“Roach Clips” are eight deleted scenes with optional commentary by Adler and Marin. In one scene, Harry Dean Stanton plays a corrections officer who tries to sell Pedro and Anthony pills. There is also more footage of Keach and his bumbling narcs.

New to this DVD is a retrospective featurette entitled, “Lighting It Up: A Look Back Up in Smoke.” Cheech and Chong (separately) talk about how they met back in 1968 at a Canadian strip club. Lou Adler talks about how he met them and helped develop their careers. Cheech and Chong also tell some entertaining anecdotes about making the film on a low budget in the guerilla filmmaking tradition.

Also new is “Earache My Eye” featuring Alice Bowie (the band in the film) in a horrible computer animated video that looks like it was put together on someone’s home computer.

Another new bit is “Cheech and Chong’s ‘The Man Song’”, a montage of all the times the word, “man,” is said by someone (usually Cheech and Chong) in the film…which is a lot. This feels like unnecessary filler material.

Also included are two vintage radio spots promoting the film and a fantastic classic theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 80%

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