In 2003, as the nation ramped up its War on Terror and poised itself for a military invasion of Iraq, the United States government spent $12 million on “Operation Pipe Dreams,” a “search and seizure” venture aimed at shutting down sellers of drug paraphernalia. Their prime target? None other than Tommy Chong, one half of the legendary stoner duo Cheech and Chong and owner of an Internet business that sold autographed, blown-glass bongs. A/K/A Tommy Chong offers an overview of the insanely absurd position the renowned pothead found himself in, detailing the helicopter-aided raid of his manufacturing plant and home, the legal case against him (founded on laws that had never before been enforced), his eventual plea bargain, and his nine-month stint behind bars in a minimum security Bakersfield, CA prison. As made clear by federal lawyers in official depositions, the 65-year-old Chong—whose sentence was more severe than any of the other 55 individuals nabbed during the nationwide sting—was singled out as much for his drug-glorifying work in Up in Smoke as for his mistaken decision to sell merchandise to a head shop in Pennsylvania (one of a handful of states where bong retail is illegal). And Josh Gilbert’s film, with a mixture of astonishment and outrage, casts the funnyman’s circumstances as the direct result of conservatives’ desire to pillory the vestiges of the ’60s and ’70s counterculture by demonizing marijuana and criminalizing its icons. Such a point—even when interspersed with a fond recap of Chong’s comedy and moviemaking career, his subsequent stand-up routines about the arrest and incarceration, and hilarious clips including one of a government slide show about how to use a bong—is barely enough to sustain a feature-length documentary. Yet A/K/A Tommy Chong’s dramatic thinness doesn’t dilute its simultaneously ridiculous and terrifying portrait of federal prosecution run amok (with Pennsylvania attorney Mary Beth Buchanan viewing her celebrity-targeting indictment as an opportunity for nightly news grandstanding and career advancement), nor interfere with its persuasive characterization of the Chong incident as merely one volley in a cultural war being waged by the righteously sanctimonious against anyone whose against-the-grain lifestyle they deem inappropriate.
- 78 min
- Josh Gilbert
- Josh Gilbert
- Tommy Chong, Shelby Chong, Paris Chong, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, Richard "Cheech" Marin, George Thorogood
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