Up in Smoke (1978)

When Lou Adler's stoner comedy opened in 1978, it was dismissed by most critics, parents, and educators as silly, irresponsible, and causing bad influence on the younger generation, based on the fear that it would increase pot smoking. It would take another decade or so before weed became a more legit film subject in Richard Linklater's pictures, “Slacker” (1991) and especially “Dazed and Confused” (1993).

However, the movie was embraced by high-schoolers and college students and became a hit, grossing over $44 million, which would be equivalent to at least $135 million (if we take into account the inflation factor).

The opening song, “Up in smoke, that's where my money's gone,” became sort of a motto, a slogan for the messy comedy that put on the movie map big-time a pair of minority comedians, Cheech and Chong, who have already achieved some popularity in pop culture.

For some, “Up in Smoke,” was a one-joke comedy, a film based on one basic gag: The misadventures of a California hippie and his Chicano sidekick, both heavy-duty potheads.

The slender story, made up of gags, begins with Man Stoner (Tommy Chong) being kicked out of his parents' lavish Hollywood Hills house only to stumble upon Pedro de Pacos (“Cheech: Marin), a leader of a rock band and lover of a “canabus.”

Assuming the shape of a chaotic road movie, the couple embark on a trip from La La Land to Mexico and back, smoking while driving a van made of “Fibreweed” (pure marijuana) across the dangerous border, outwitting in the process cops, a narcotics detective (played by Stacy Keach), and even the van's owners.

Losers become winners: In the end, the couple even manage to win a climactic “Battle of the Bands” contest.

Context is crucial: “Up in Smoke,” arguably the funniest of the duo's movies, was released just years after the end of the Vietnam War, and thus, one of the wildest jokes that always generated laughter (I saw the movie twice as a student) was the reference to Pedro's cousin, “Man, he went to Vietnam and came back weirded out, Nam grass do weird things to you.”

Cast

Pedro De Pacas (Cheech Marin)
Man Stoner (Tommy Chong)
Sergeant Stedenko (Stacy Keach)
Strawberry (Tom Skerritt)
Tempest Stoner (Edie Adams)
Mr. Stoner (Brother Martin)
Officer Gloria (Louisa Moritz)
Jade East (Zane Buzby)
Debbie (Anne Wharton)
Harry (Mills Waltson)

Credits

Produced by Lou Adler and Lou Lombardo
Directed by Lou Adler
Screenplay: Thomas Chong, Richard “Cheech” Marin
Cinematography: Gene Polito, Jack Willoughby
Editing: Lou Lombardo
Art Direction: Leon Ericksen
Special Effects: Knott Limited

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