Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke

For better or worse, the comedy team of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong enjoyed quite the successful career in the 70s, portraying two drug-addled hippies in their popular stand-up routines. This led to a string of well-received comedy albums, enormously popular with the counter-culture youth. In 1978, the pair finally took their act to the big screen, in the first of many feature-length films, Up in Smoke. Filled with drug references and some surprising cameo appearances, the movie was a major success for the duo and has since gone on to become a cult classic.

Freeloader Anthony Stoner (Chong) finds himself kicked out of his parent’s house after refusing to take a job offered by his father (Strother Martin). He soon encounters Pedro De Pacas (Cheech) who is out cruising the neighborhood and spots what he thinks is a beautiful woman hitchhiking. When Pedro realizes that he has been duped by a hippie in drag, he still picks up Stoner, and they drive away together, sharing an enormous amount of marijuana along the way, until they are eventually pulled over and Stoner is arrested.

The charges are eventually dropped against Stoner when the Judge is found to be drinking straight vodka from behind the bench. Free once again, the pair head off to visit cousin Strawberry, a mentally disturbed Vietnam Vet, to score more drugs. Strawberry (played by Tom Skerritt) leaves to take care of business and the police arrive to bust everyone in the house. Luckily, Pedro and his buddy escape and head back to Pedro’s place to start a new band. While rehearsing, immigration raids the place and the pair is promptly deported to Mexico.

They find a way to get home – by driving a van back to the United States that is made completely of marijuana. Meanwhile, an ambitious but bumbling narcotics agent (Stacy Keach) catches wind of their activities. He pursues the pair, who have managed to pick up a couple of groupies along the way, to a Battle of the Bands competition in Hollywood. Pedro and his pal think their band might be good enough to win first prize, if they can only elude capture long enough to take the stage.

Despite the subject matter (or, more likely, because of it) Up in Smoke did respectable business at the box-office, pulling in $41 million and becoming the 15th highest grossing film of the year. Its success led to a string of less-memorable sequels, including Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980), Nice Dreams (1981), Things are Tough All Over (1982), and Still Smokin’ (1983).

Eventually, as the times changed, the drug humor wore thin and Cheech and Chong went their separate ways. But Up In Smoke remains one of those films that millions of teens saw in their youth and can still recite significant portions from memory to this day. And much of that is owed to the fact that, questionable material aside, Cheech and Chong were truly funny performers. Harold and Kumar have kept the drug-comedy genre alive with their own marijuana-filled adventures in recent years, but Cheech and Chong were the clear pioneers.

Do you recall watching Up in Smoke with a group of friends back in the day? We’d love to hear your memories of this classic Cheech and Chong film in our comments section below.

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