The Cheech and Chong Collection Review
Cinema has always loved the stoner. Unreliable, anti-establishment, and often very funny, the stoner has probably done more for modern culture than any pop song or rock anthem. After all, what would the average slasher movie or teen comedy do without this well-worn stereotype? In fact, it’s tough to find a recent comedy picture that doesn’t resort to pot humour at least once, and those that don’t, usually feature a pair of layabouts that have no doubt tried it. And liked it. So, where did this cinematic trend begin? Those of a certain age will know the answer. The blame lies solely with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong.
The ultimate counterculture slackers, Cheech and Chong’s influence still resonates today, with their unique brand of dope comedy being imitated by many. 2004’s teenagers probably look to Jay and Silent Bob to satisfy their cravings, but it was this pair of hippies that paved the way. Crossing paths in 1970, the duo came to prominence through their wild stand-up and music acts at a Vancouver night-club. The gigs had given them some notoriety, and later wound-up in California performing at the renowned Troubadour Club. Spotted by record executive Lou Adler, they signed a deal, and their fate was set in stone. A move into comedic motion pictures must have been obvious from the start...
Their legendary movie career began with the cult classic Up In Smoke in 1978; a low-budget slice of crude sight gags and ridiculous scenarios, that raked in money across America (the films have grossed over $100 million in total). Clearly, the 70’s audience connected with these weed-smoking fools, and Hollywood took note, resulting in a series of adventures that differed in quality, but were always popular. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that DVD would eventually be treated to their far-out humour. Unfortunately, Universal’s Cheech and Chong Collection doesn’t feature Up in Smoke, Still Smokin' or The Corsican Brothers (which were released by Paramount), but does include five of their other efforts (one of which has never been available before). Fans will be in heaven, but everyone else might be asking one vital question: are they any good?
Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie - 7/10
“Just what we all need! A really good hit!”
-- Poster tag-line
When any film makes money (no matter how awful), a follow-up is usually addressed by the Hollywood suits. Therefore, Cheech and Chong must have felt like the new heroes of comedy when a sequel to Up In Smoke was fast-tracked. Next Movie wouldn’t appear until 1980, but for fans, it was worth the wait. In most respects, this is a stronger film than their debut, with a higher quotient of gags hitting the mark. The increase in budget also proved helpful, with the pair free to dream-up any situations they wanted. With millions in the bank, they also had the power to pull the strings, so Chong would take the director’s chair (Adler made their previous effort). The film is scattershot for sure, but Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie has plenty of laughs up its sleeve...
Like the first film, there’s no real plot here. Instead, the hapless duo lumber from one event to the next, often causing chaos wherever they go. This time, Cheech must deal with losing his job, while attempting to avoid his angry next-door neighbour. Still, this isn’t the most important thing on his mind - he’s trying to bed the delicious Donna (Evelyn Guerrero), a task which is more difficult than you might think. Meanwhile, Chong has an encounter with Cheech's cousin Red (also played by Marin), and they proceed to rampage around Hollywood with a stolen Ferrari. This all leads to a deeply bizarre day, with our heroes meeting many crazy characters, and a batch of friendly aliens (if this last part made you think of Dude, Where’s My Car?, you’re not alone). In other words, it makes a pretty good case for not smoking marijuana.
While Next Movie is hardly a work of genius, the screenplay often goes into unexpected and rather audacious areas. It’s all vulgar and about as subtle a nuclear explosion, but darn it, this movie had me laughing frequently. Rather shamelessly, I might add. As a director, Chong has just the right touch - letting the action speak for itself, rather than mounting any sort of pace, or attempting to make the material seem better than it is. There’s no technical bravado, or stylised camera tricks. It’s a simple point-and-shoot affair, which allows their comedic talents to shine. The opening sequence is proof of this. Carting a dustbin down the street, the pair then fill it up to the brim with stolen petrol - all in daylight, on a busy Los Angeles street. Then, in a few moments of hilarious slapstick, they hustle the swag to their vehicle, spilling the contents all over their clothes. All seems well, until Cheech lights a joint...
The picture is littered with such moments, making it a highly entertaining brew. If you want to see them in competition with some whacked-out low-riders, this is the place. If you’d like to see Chong ride his motorbike inside, and play mind-rotting heavy metal, Next Movie is the film to see it. And if you want drug-taking, the picture has that covered too (over 70 minutes in total). With so many fun vignettes, the film is easily their finest work, and the comic timing is impeccable. Still, the laughs come from other cast members too - it was fun to see Police Academy’s Michael Winslow once again making “those noises”, and Guererro takes the ridiculous script in her stride. If you manage to see through the bong smoke, you might find yourselves entertained by Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie...
Nice Dreams - 6/10
“The story of two enterprising young men who make an amazing amount of money selling ice cream.”
Don’t you just love to-the-point tag-lines? Of course, their third outing was just as light on narrative, but the magic is still there. The anarchic vibe is still flowing strong, and while cracks do appear in the formula, Nice Dreams is far from their low-point. Here, Cheech and his witless chum are living the doper's dream — no “job”, no responsibilities. Just women and a whole supply of joints. As Nice Dreams begins, they’re cruising around in an ice cream truck to make ends meet. Of course, they’re dispensing more than just Vanilla Swirls, supplying rich yuppies with their latest fix. Things are looking rosy, until a pair of inept police officers start monitoring their activities (one of whom, Stacey Keach, would rather sit in the station and get high).
Naturally, we’ve seen this all before, and the previous films did it better. Yet, it’s hard not to like the pair, even when events are at their craziest. The comedy once again moves a-mile-a-minute, with a whole host of memorable pratfalls and close calls. In one scene, Cheech comes face-to-face with his old girlfriend and her new biker boyfriend "Animal", before ending up in an asylum run by one Timothy Leary. The whole section in the institution contains the films best moments, especially when an inmate does a bang-on impersonation of Jimi Hendrix (it’s like his ghost has returned from beyond). These gems aside, Nice Dreams will probably test the patience of those looking for something new. Cheech and Chong employ the same ingredients, and for the most part, they’re successful.
Things Are Tough All Over - 5/10
“The original HIGH rollers hit the strip!”
By this point, even die-hard fans admitted that the humour was getting a little stale. Still, the comedic dynamos continued to draw multiplex audiences, resulting in yet another offering. This time, they did attempt to tweak the formula, with the wacky duo leaving L.A. for Las Vegas. Here, we see them working briefly as car wash attendants and part-time musicians, attempting to get by and stay out of handcuffs. However, a well-paid job rolls along thanks to two shady “businessmen” (played by themselves). The task is simple - drive a car from Chicago to Vegas. Little do they know, that the men concealed $5 million worth of dirty money in the upholstery. Cue yet more silliness, as Cheech and Chong take to the road and get into more scrapes (the funniest of which, is when they stumble onto the set of a porn movie, called “The Guys”). In most respects, Things Are Tough All Over is a mediocre motion picture, yet those familiar to the series should enjoy its neat parodic touches, especially since Marin has always relished taking on dual roles (anyone who saw From Dusk Till Dawn should know this). It’s fun while it lasts, but this remains their last decent film...
Get Out of My Room - 3/10
By far the weakest entry in this set, the dire Get Out of My Room stands out for one key reason - it isn’t really a movie. Clocking in at 53 minutes, it’s a “mockumentary” filmed in and around Los Angeles; consisting entirely of faux interview material, interspersed with four “music videos” from their ‘85 album. It earns the distinction of being their last writing collaboration, but the magic had clearly evaporated. Even with the short running time, it was a chore to make it through to the end. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if the music stood the test of time. It really doesn’t. The tunes refer to political themes that no longer have stature, and most importantly of all, they reek of everything bad about 80’s music. The pair come off well in the interviews, but its all padding, with the piece existing only to link the musical interludes. The only joy to be had, is to spot a few familiar faces, with Beverley D’Angelo and Jan-Michael Vincent showing some much-needed support. A waste of celluloid.
Born in East L.A. - 5.5/10
“This time Cheech is not just on the wrong side of the law. He's on the wrong side of the line.”
Possibly the best track to feature in Get Out of My Room was "Born in East L.A” a scathing parody of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," which, when pushing aside the flagrant patriotism, was all about alienation and broken promises. Marin famously twisted the meaning of the track, making it about “illegal alienation” instead. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the resulting film would be the most thoughtful of all Marin’s output, and the departure of Chong clearly gave him the chance to pursue a much more personal story. While the song was perhaps not good enough to sustain a full-length film, he tried anyway, making this a rather different experience.
While there are deep themes trying to burst through here, Marin plays the entire film for cheap laughs, which dim the overall meaning. He occasionally gives the script some genuine pathos, but those moments are few and far between. Here, the writer/director plays Rudy Robles, a Mexican-American entwined in an immigration raid. He speaks no Spanish whatsoever, and has forgotten his wallet and papers, leaving him with no identity. Subsequently, he’s deported to Tijuana, where he is mistaken for a criminal with the same name, and treated as such. The plot is certainly clever, with Robles attempting to sneak over the border to return home. Unfortunately, the screenplay makes a mess of such ideas, with no clear direction or purpose to the scenes. This leaves a film that is only intermittently funny, and Marin’s direction is flat and uninspired. Still, after so much dope humour, it was refreshing to see a film that tried something new. While Born in East L.A. is largely unsuccessful, it shows Marin as a filmmaker fully prepared to oppose Hollywood conventions. Previously unavailable in the UK, it marks a fitting end to this collection...
According to the box art, this collection was "organically grown in the USA", which might explain it's rather low-tech nature. After all, it's a very no-frills affair - the five movies, on five barebones discs. Nothing more, nothing less. While the sparse treatment is certainly disappointing, fans should find much to enjoy here.
The Look and Sound
The Cheech and Chong films were never going to pass muster as technological achievements, but it's good to have them looking above-average. All of them get the anamorphic widescreen treatment (varying between 1.85:1, 2.35:1 and full frame ratios), and look exactly like you'd expect - grainy, rather soft, and lacking depth. Still, these were reasonably low-budget pictures, so they will never be exemplary. On the plus side, the transfers handle colour well, and the images are neatly defined without being sharp. They look good, improving on years-old video and laserdisc editions. In fact, the only disappointment here is Get Out of My Room, which fully reveals its poor man roots - an inconsistent image quality, with huge leaps in clarity amidst the hand-held footage. This abomination aside, the films look the best they ever have...
Naturally, all we get in the sound department is the customary Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mono, which are serviceable at best. Comedy films rarely get the deluxe treatment, since few require a surround mix, but the tracks needed a boost here (especially when compared to Paramount's 5.1 treatment of Up In Smoke). The dated 80's music comes through pleasingly, and you should have no trouble understanding dialogue, with all of it coming from the front stages. There's nothing remarkable about the work here at all, though the quality does improve as the films progress. Take it or leave it, since it's doubtful these films will ever sound better.
Considering the transfers are merely satisfactory, no one should be expecting anything spectacluar from the menus. No animation, just static pictures. Boring for sure, but they get the job done.
Nada. Nothing. Not a sausage. Universal could have given us some trailers at least, but it wasn't to be. If you want extras with your Cheech and Chong fest, I once again direct you toward Up In Smoke, which has a commentary and deleted scenes. For a box set, this is certainly disheartening.
As time has shown, Cheech and Chong have their devoted fans. So huge is their following, that a reunion movie has been on the cards for some time now. Whether that happens remains to be seen (especially with Marin's descent into mainstream fare). As for this box set, it's nothing special, but if you love the movies, it's probably a must-buy. The lack of supplements makes it a hard sell for those new to the series, but if you're feeling like the ultimate in low-brow comedy, a rental is certainly in order.