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.
- Paramount Pictures
- 85 min
- Lou Adler
- Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin
- Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Tom Skerritt, Edie Adams, Strother Martin, Stacy Keach, June Fairchild, Zane Buzby, Mills Watson, Karl Johnson, Rick Beckner, Arthur Roberts, Val Avery, Cheryl Smith, Wally Ann Wharton, Louisa Moritz
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