A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke is a classic 1978 stoner comedy in which the two lead characters unknowingly drive a van made entirely of marijuana from Mexico to LA. Obviously, the movie contains a lot of marijuana smoking. Besides Cheech and Chong, police officers get high from smelling the fumes of the van. There's also hashish smoking and references to drugs like cocaine, Quaaludes, and amphetamines. A woman snorts lines of Ajax, believing them to be cocaine. Some outdated humor, such as an Asian news reporter named "Toyota Kawasaki," and Cheech saying "let's get Chinese eyes" as a euphemism for getting stoned. Cheech pulls up to a pair of young female hitchhikers and makes suggestive sexual comments; he later flicks his tongue in a sexual manner at a group of nuns in a car. A drugged-out woman in their van discusses in graphic detail her sex life, replete with orgasmic moaning. Centerfolds of naked women on the walls of a men's room. Some drinking. Frequent profanity: "f--k," "motherf--ker," "s--t," "d--k," "bitch," "piss," "goddamn." "Retard" used as a punchline. Middle finger gesture. Breasts referred to as "magic mountains."
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What's the story?
In CHEECH & CHONG's UP IN SMOKE, Anthony "Man" Stoner (Tommy Chong) is a burned-out hippie drummer whose wealthy parents have given him one day to get a job before he's shipped off to military school. After his car breaks down, he meets Pedro de Pacas (Cheech Marin), who at first believes that Stoner is a female hitchhiker. After Pedro gets over his initial disappointment, the two share an enormous joint that gets Pedro so high, he ends up stopped in the middle of a median and soon the two are arrested by the police. After avoiding jail time when Stoner discovers that the judge is drinking vodka, the pair are now in search of replenishing their weed supply. They visit Pedro's cousin Strawberry (Tom Skeritt), a Vietnam War veteran who is prone to flashbacks. After narrowly escaping a raid, the two are picked up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and sent in a bus to Tijuana. While attempting to procure a van to go back to the States from Pedro's Uncle, the two go to the wrong address and end up in a marijuana processing plant, where they unknowingly drive off with a van made entirely out of marijuana. At the border, they are nearly apprehended by the inept Sgt. Stadenko (Stacy Keach) and his narcotics squad, who are now on their tail. On the way back to LA, Stoner and Pedro pick up two attractive hitchhikers, who help them get drugs while also convincing them to sign up to compete in the "Rock Fight," a Battle of the Bands taking place at the Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip. After getting pulled over and nearly arrested again until the motorcycle cop gets high from the fumes of the marijuana van, Stoner, Pedro, and the women arrive at the Roxy. Now, Pedro's band, Alice Bowie, with Stoner on drums, must win over a hostile audience in the hopes of winning a record contract.
Is it any good?
While panned by critics and loathed by parents upon its 1978 release, this movie, while far from perfect, is still funny. Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke also blazed (no pun intended) a trail for the stoner comedies that emerged in the 1990s and beyond. To say that the story is a jumbled mess completely misses the point. What's obvious, decades later, is that Cheech and Chong, for all their celebration and mockery of hippie counterculture, were part of a larger tradition of bumbling comedy duos going from one "fine mess" to the next. It's their chemistry that carries the movie.
While some of the humor has not aged well (the name of the Asian American news correspondent, for instance), there's a period charm that enhances the entertainment of the humor that has aged well. Seeing Cheech & Chong perform in a still-new and still-weird "punk rock" Battle of the Bands as a band called Alice Bowie is hilarious. This movie isn't for everyone, but for fans of movies like Friday, Dazed and Confused, and Pineapple Express looking for the seminal "stoner" comedy, Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke is where it all begins.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about "stoner" comedies. Do movies like these glamorize marijuana use, or do they find comedy out of imitating the way people might act when they're high? How does this movie reflect the culture of the times?
What aspects of the humor of Up in Smoke are dated, and might be considered offensive today?
In their own way, Cheech and Chong are a comedy duo who are part of a larger tradition of comedy duos who create humor through slapstick, sight gags, and ludicrous premises. Who are some other comedy duos?
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