Richard "Cheech" Marin and Thomas Chong not only invented cannabis comedy as we know and laugh bong smoke out of our noses to it, they remain the unsurpassed overlords of the form.
Cheech and Chong came up with their act in late 1960s Vancouver. Cheech had hightailed it north (yes, from East LA) to dodge the Vietnam-era draft and, once there, he happened upon a local strip club owned by Chong's family.
After using that stage to perfect what they called "hippie vaudeville," Cheech and Chong made their way down to Hollywood, whereupon they hit unprecedented peaks as both marijuana-fueled funnymen and savvy purveyors of pot among the mass mindset.
Five gold-selling, Grammy-winning albums made Cheech and Chong idols and icons among the young, the hip, and (of course) the high. Challenged to translate that marijuana magic to a movie, Cheech and Chong immediately fired off an instant classic, Up in Smoke (1978). Big screen stardom wafted forth accordingly.
Aside from cameos in Graham Chapman's all-star pirate farce Yellowbeard (1983) and Martin Scorsese's comic nightmare After Hours (1985), Cheech and Chong co-created, co-wrote, and co-starred in eight movies total. Here they all are, ranked from ditch to dank.
Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie (2013)
Directors: Branden Chambers, Eric D. Chambers
Weed may be a lot better now than it was 40 years ago, but weed movies haven't necessarily followed the same upwards trajectory.
That stated, we never got a Cheech and Chong collaboration with heady, non-kiddie-cartoon-maker Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic) at the collective peak of their 1970s creative powers, so Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie gives it a go in 21st century terms.
What that means is easy nostalgia (most of the material is recycled bits from the pair's vintage albums), easier gross-out gags (a pubic louse ties it all together by jumping from a crotch to Chong's beard to myriad variations of excrement and mucus), and animation that resembles a demonstration reel of how cheap you can make cartoons on YouTube. Don't puff, just pass.
Get Out of My Room (1985)
Director: Cheech Marin
In aesthetic terms, 1985 stands as one of pop culture's ugliest moments. Everything was poodlehead metal and chintzy MTV glitz. In Get Out of My Room, Cheech and Chong do their best to adjust to the unsightly era, and the result is just (about) the worst.
Released as a companion piece for an LP of the same name, Get Out of My Room is a Spinal-Tap-style "mockumentary" chronicling Cheech and Chong attempting to make the very "video album" we're watching. Meta? Sure. Funny? Not very.
Still, Get Out of My Room did spawn the hit single and music video, "Born in East LA," which, two years later, Chong turned into his first (pretty good) solo movie. Much like the song's border-crossing hero, though, you have to go a long way through Get Out of My Room to get where you want to be.
Still Smokin' (1983)
Director: Tommy Chong
Still Smokin' seems to live up to its title in that Cheech and Chong had to still be getting insanely wasted for those dudes to somehow mistake this mess for a "movie."
The film is a disjointed (pun intended) jamming together of original comedy sketches and live footage. They get invited to appear at a Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton film festival in Amsterdam (a funny idea). Once that bombs, C&C launch a "Dope-A-Thon" recreation of their old stage show (originally brilliantly funny stuff that comes off as tired here).
None of it quite blends into a workable strain, but the final 20 minutes is actual documentary footage of the delirious duo's last theatrical performance together. You'll wish they'd done it ten years earlier or, to be fair, 25 years later.
The Corsican Brothers (1984)
Director: Tommy Chong
Cheech and Chong adapted Alexandra Dumas's classic 1844 adventure novel The Corsican Brothers in an attempt to reinvent themselves as slapstick swashbucklers — very specifically: non-stoned, PG-rated slapstick swashbucklers.
As you'd expect, then, Brothers is a bust. Still, watching the buds wail and flail as French aristocrats through a fancy-costumed period production does warrant some guffaws, provided you've baked your brain like brie on a baguette before watching.
Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (1980)
Director: Tommy Chong
Up in Smoke stunned critics and audiences alike with Cheech and Chong's ability to hit the big screen at full blaze. Many figured that they had torched their whole bowl with that one. Cheech and Chong's Next Movie not only shut up those doubters, it did so by rendering them unable to speak with lunatic, lit-up laughter.
To witness Next Movie's opening moments is to barely even be able to inhale due to its hilarity. The dudes fill a standard backyard trash can with stolen gasoline and awkwardly lug it in broad daylight to Cheech's low-rider as it splashes everywhere. They then drive off obliviously as Chong sparks up a doob the size of a stick of dynamite and ignites the inevitable result.
The whole thing is crazily cartoonish, but it's elevated to genius levels by the two literal burnouts who then cough with their faces blackened by the explosion — and set out to score more dope.
That moment sets the tone for the rest of Next Movie. Other riotous highlights include Cheech playing his Texas cousin strawberry, Edie McClurg, as a society matron who is simply tickled by this pair of wastrels, and pre-Pee-Wee Paul Reubens coming on strong as both a nasty bellboy and an even nastier stand-up comic.
Things Are Tough All Over (1982)
Director: Thomas K. Avildsen
While Things Are Tough All Over didn't bomb at the box office, it did sort of come off as Cheech and Chong's first movie misfire. It's time, therefore, for everybody to newly bust out a copy of the 1982 joint, toke hard, toke often, and have another go.
Cheech and Chong portray not only Cheech and Chong but, respectively, Mr. Slyman and Prince Habib, a pair of gaudy, hotheaded, (literally) oily Middle Eastern billionaires.
Chaos heat up after Slyman and Habib order a couple of their carwash employees — yes, Cheech and Chong — to drive a limousine to Las Vegas, without mentioning that the vehicle is stuffed with illegal cash.
This inherently idiotic idea leaves both parties wandering the desert where misadventures crop up like magic mushrooms — including, amazingly, an encounter with maniacally flamboyant prop comic Rip Taylor.
C&C as the mad Arabian business moguls is hilarious, though maybe problematic from a 2017 perspective — it all depends on your own taste for taboo and PC-busting hysteria. Here's the test: See if you can contain yourself when a stylist misunderstands Prince Habib's accent, thinking that instead of "hairpiece," he's saying "herpes."
Sample dialogue: "Of course I have 'hairrr-peees' on my head! Where you have 'hairrr-peees'? On your dick?!"
Nice Dreams (1981)
Director: Tommy Chong
Ever the cutting-edge innovators of cannabinoid consumption, in Nice Dreams, Cheech and Chong sell marijuana-infused ice cream out of a truck and long for the chance to retire as "Sun Kings in Paradise."
Sgt. Stedanko, the fascist cop played to deadpan perfection by Stacy Keach in Up in Smoke, returns to douse those desired. He's gone from a being a gnarly-souled narc to secretly imbibing sativa nonstop, which only further inflames him against our heroes.
Cheech and Chong get so blasted on coke with Howie Hamburger Dude (Paul Reubens, going full proto-Pee-Wee) that they hand over all their money to this obvious lunatic. Chong runs afoul with returning character Donna's racist biker husband. Cheech gets trapped naked, balls first, on the outside of a glass elevator, then locked up in Casa Del Wacko where, restricted by a straight jacket, he bellows repeatedly, "My balls itch! My balls itch!"
Each of these funnybone blower-outers is peppered with unbelievably inventive character moments involving the likes of real-life LSD guru Timothy Leary, real-life human sound-effects machine Michael Winslow (who'd go from here to oddball stardom in the Police Academy movies), and Sandra Bernhard making her big screen debut as "Girl Nut."
Throughout it all, Cheech and Chong's weird weed seems to be transforming Sgt. Stedanko into a lizard. Spoiler alert: by the end, Sgt. Stedanko completely transforms into a lizard.
Up in Smoke (1978)
Director: Lou Adler
What else could be #1? In the annals of not just Cheech and Chong movies, but stoner flicks overall, what can compete with Up in Smoke?
If you're even contemplating an answer, just consider Up in Smoke's first half-hour alone, wherein we meet Pedro and The Man, the actual character names of Cheech and Chong's totemic stoners. Their simultaneously laid-back and madcap introduction vividly conveys everything wondrous about weed, friendship, and the wild possibilities ahead when the two come together.
Amidst a flawlessly captured wake-and-bake haze, we relate to mistaking a hamper for the toilet, cheer for Cheech's cholo-tricked VW bug, and bray in victory when Cheech beats a pot bust by exposing that the judge's water jug is full of vodka.
Then comes Sgt. Stedanko. He's Cheech and Chong's natural nemesis — the ultimate square-skulled, jackbooted enemy of anyone attempting to enjoy a joint anywhere.
Finally, just light up and let loose to the Battle of the Bands. Cheech and Chong, as costumed shock-rockers Alice Bowie, blare out their all-time heavy metal anthem "Earache My Eye" for an actual audience of Los Angeles punks. They rock mightily into cinematic history with a concert scene so potent it counts as a celluloid contact high.
And those are just the peaks. Every frame of Up in Smoke maintains the same sublime levels of pure-human hilarity and ideally-observed pothead specifics. So when it comes to Cheech and Chong's single most colossal cultural contribution, there is truly nowhere to go but Up.
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