Up In Smoke: A Movie Review

No two names are more associated with Stoner Comedy than Cheech and Chong. The hilarious pot-smoking duo of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong have made stoners laugh since the early 1970s and still perform today. The two are well-known for their standup comedy routines, but they also contributed to cinema. Before Cheech and Chong, few movies even referenced cannabis jokingly. So, when the duo came out with movies that revolved around marijuana-related hijinks, the films became instant classics in the cannabis community. The legacy of stoner comedies began with their first movie, Up In Smoke.

Up In Smoke is not only a timeless stoner comedy, it also started the entire genre. Every pot-smoking character and plotline in movies today owes a debt to Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke. Since this movie serves as the archetype all stoner comedies followed afterward, it is essential to know how it came about. First, we will provide a backstory of how Cheech and Chong were able to make Up In Smoke. Then, we will dive into a synopsis of the plot, a critical look at the film, and what it can tell us about stoner culture. Sit back, relax, and discover what makes Up In Smoke the seminal stoner comedy.

The Beginnings of Up In Smoke

The comedy duo first met in the late 1960s in Vancouver, Canada. Tommy Chong was a Canadian-born citizen. Cheech Marin recently moved from America to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft. After meeting due to their musical interests, Cheech and Chong became fast friends, initially starting an Improv comedy group before becoming a standup comedy duo. They got their start in standup performing at a nightclub owned by Chong’s brother.

The two then moved on to comedy albums, which were their breakthrough into the big time. Their self-titled Cheech and Chong was nominated for Best Comedy Recording at the Grammys in 197. Then, they won the award in 1973 with their follow-up Los Cochinos. Although Cheech and Chong’s comedy wasn’t “highbrow” by any definition, their jokes were a hit with audiences, especially with stoners.Up In Smoke: Cheech and Chong

The counterculture was in full swing, and although some movies poked at the subject of cannabis, none had gone all-in with the plant. Inspired by their standup success, Cheech and Chong dove into cinema. They pitched the plot to Paramount, received a one-million-dollar budget, and Up In Smoke began.

Up In Smoke Synopsis

The film begins with a down-and-out Cheech, who plays Pedro, and Chong, who plays “Man.” Besieged by personal issues, both leave home. By chance, Cheech picks up the hitchhiking Chong, erroneously believing he is a woman due to his long hair and fake breasts. Cheech then reveals a colossal joint that both partake in. Additionally, Cheech accidentally takes a massive dose of LSD, resulting in impaired driving. They crash their car, and the police arrest them. Then, the two stand trial for their crimes, and the judge is about to pronounce them guilty. In a stroke of luck, the two discover the judge is drunk, so the police release them.Get high like Cheech and Chong

The two then begin an adventure to find weed. Cheech and his cousin Strawberry get on a motorcycle to search for pot but end up crashing. Chong gets mixed up in a coke-related bust, but Cheech pretends to be a repo man and gets him out of it. They get high at their friend’s place, but law enforcement accosts them again. It turns out that some Mexican friends called immigration to report their illegal status so they could get a free ride to Mexico, roping in Cheech and Chong.

Once in Mexico, they try to get a ride back, finding a van made from hardened-resin marijuana as their ride. They evade the police on the way back, get some nuns in trouble, and pick up two hitchhiking girls. The girls tell them there is a battle of the bands with a record contract on the line. The movie ends with Cheech and Chong performing while their marijuana van burns, resulting in the entire venue getting fried and them winning the contract. However, a misplaced joint caused the record contract to burn, literally up in smoke.

A Critical Perspective

When doing research, I was shocked to see that critic scores are low for this movie. The rotten tomatoes critics score is a 47%. Stoners and non-stoners alike always refer to this film as an all-time comedy classic, so the disparity was surprising.

In a vacuum, I believe one can view Up In Smoke as a flawed film. The film feels broken up, with standup-esque sketches at the beginning, with the trip back from Mexico taking up the second half. I can understand an argument that the movie is half-baked, pun intended. However, one must watch the film with context.

Impact on the Cannabis Community

Up In Smoke hit theaters at a strange time for the cannabis community. In the late 70s, the last gasps of counterculture coincided with the intensification of the War on Drugs. Although society did not vilify cannabis as much as in the 80s and 90s, the late 70s surely weren’t as friendly as the hippy vibes of the 60s.Field of Cannabis

If Cheech and Chong came around just a few years later, I doubt that Hollywood producers would greenlight Up In Smoke. A lighthearted comedy about two pot-smoking heathens on the run from the law? It sounds exactly the opposite of how America portrayed cannabis users in the 80s and 90s. However, due to the wild success of Up In Smoke, the stoner comedy lived on.

Look at any stoner comedy, like Harold & Kumar’s Go To White Castle or Dude Where’s My Car? and it’s impossible to ignore how they draw on Up In Smoke. A disjointed, lighthearted comedy about wacky hijinks – that is the formula for a stoner comedy: without Up In Smoke, these films would never exist.

When one realizes the impact Up In Smoke had on cinema, it’s impossible to deny that it is an all-time classic. The greatest honor a movie can achieve is inspiring future generations, and Up In Smoke is an incredible achievement for both cinema and the cannabis community.