As far as comedic ingredients go, weed is not so much a surefire laugh-getter as it is a free-floating lubricant capable of setting off wicked complications. Too often, however, stoner flicks mistake the very act of smoking grass for the punchline, offering its ensuing delayed reactions and non sequiturs as inherently hilarious while purveying an edge-dulling passivity that goes against the disrupting energy of great comedy. That’s the trouble at the center of the benign but tepid ganja-classic Up in Smoke: Its toking Abbott-and-Costello duo are so content to simply drift away in clouds of smoke that the audience is often left behind looking for the jokes. From the minute Pedro (Cheech Marin) picks up an improbable blueblood runaway (Tommy Chong) in his “love machine” low-rider to the “battle of the bands” climax, the film is shaped as a rumpled string of skits about their pursuit of the ultimate high. As befits the feature debut of two cult counterculture staples venerated for their irreverent grubbiness, Up in Smoke looks as if it cost about $20 to shoot. Lou Adler’s direction is pedestrian (though it’s positively Ophülsian next to, say, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie or Still Smokin’), yet he shows a loose-limbed, sideways-glancing touch that hits the gags without suffocating them: The “fiber-weed” van smuggled across the border under the nose of Stacy Keach’s diligently hard-assed narc is an extended bit that surprisingly holds together, while the crazies flea-hopping throughout—including Tom Skerritt having flashbacks as a “weirded out” ‘Nam vet and June Fairchild snorting Ajax powder—provide welcome shifts in rhythm. Still, most of the movie’s charm resides with the two comedians, and Adler’s best directorial choices are the simple two-shots that allow Chong’s lighting of a taco-sized joint and Cheech’s “hija de la chingada!” double take to naturally bounce off each other. If Up in Smoke lacks the energy of 1978’s other influential, anti-establishment hit, Animal House, it makes up by rejecting the all-white fraternity superiority of John Landis’s comedy in favor of Cheech and Chong’s pluralizing search for far-out pleasure.
The crisp new transfer manages to sharpen the film's saturated colors without dampening its essential griminess, while the audio gets a nice 5.1 English surround treatment.
Cheech Marin and director Lou Adler laugh it up in the affable commentary track, noting the "Antonioni homage," dropping Jack Nicholson's name, and lamenting how so much of the L.A. captured in the film has since vanished. Tommy Chong is MIA in the track but shows up, gray and mellow in a "Hemp is an herb/Bush is a dope" shirt, in the enjoyable featurette "Lighting Up: A Look Back at Up in Smoke," where the comic duo's origins and influence are traced (no hints of a possible reunion are given though). A bunch of tattered deleted scenes (tagged "roach clips") gives extra glimpses of the movie's assorted loonies, most notably the awesome Harry Dean Stanton (whose scene as an acid-shilling prison guard is entirely missing from the finished film). Rounding out the package is Alice Bowie's "Earache My Eye" animated music video, "The Man Song" culled from the countless times "man" is uttered in the film (not as funny as the all-"fuck" version of Scarface), and the original trailer ("Don't go straight to see this movie").
Whether or not this stoner classic is as funny as you remember, this edition is a munchies-included keeper for C&C fans.