Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong would have to be the first two honorees into a Stoner Comedy Hall of Fame if one ever existed. In another world, the couple may have pursued a very different professional path; when they met in Vancouver, Canada in the late 1960s, Chong was a budding musician who had even achieved a little success with his band Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers while signed to Motown Records. Cheech and Chong began their professional connection as a musical duo, but when their onstage banter became more popular than their tunes, they realized that a change was in need.
The duo had a string of popular humor recordings from the early to mid-1970s. Cheech & Chong debuted their loopy, wordplay-heavy act in 1971, followed by Big Bambu in 1972, which was a big smash with the college audience, and Los Cochinos in 1973, which won them a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording. When the pressures of frequent traveling began to wear on Chong, he had a bright, maybe weed-inspired epiphany: produce a film loosely reworking some of their best comedic routines into a rollicking, ludicrous journey of highness.
Cheech and Chong greatest hits!
Up in Smoke, from 1978, is the reason we have Friday, How High, Half Baked, Pineapple Express, and basically every other stoner comedy you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing while smoking a doobie or four (or none at all — we won’t judge). Over the following decade and a half, Cheech and Chong would release a flurry of films, including a few duds, a few solo attempts, and at least two truly true comedy masterpieces. Let’s take a puff and see how they stack up, from worst to… err… what was it again? Yes, indeed! Best.
Far Out Man is a drab, Cheech Marin-less attempt.
Cheech Marin’s 1990 film Far Out Man would almost certainly not have been if Cheech had not decided, midway through the 1980s, that he was ready to try his hand at mainstream comedy — a decision that Chong vehemently opposed and ultimately ended their decades-long collaboration. Far Out Man was almost probably supposed to be a triumphant return to the weed-infused lunacy that the duo’s fans adored them for, written, directed, and starring Chong (Cheech only makes a brief cameo). Regrettably, the film… how should we say this delicately? It was a disaster. Badly.
Chong had been listed as a screenwriter on all of the duo’s previous projects, but in Far Out Man, he completely fudged the script, slapping a succession of stale gags on a barebones frame of a story about an aging hippy on a cross-country quest to reconnect with his family. Despite a generous helping of self-deprecation (the opening credits refer to the film as “A Tommy Chong Attempt”) and the presence of some talented actors such as C.
Thomas Howell, Martin Mull, Judd Nelson, and Chong’s daughter Rae Dawn Chong, the film’s labored attempts to bring the funny fell flat with all but the most discriminating weed-heads. Chong appears to admit in a 2019 interview with Inked that the solo endeavour wasn’t the best choice. “It was difficult. He had another movie to make when we broke up, and he was the one who broke the spell “Chong recalled something. “So we parted up, and I went on to do the film Far Out Man, in which Cheech had a cameo appearance. That was more difficult than not having him in the film since we get along so well.”
Still, Smokin’ finds the team at a low point in terms of creativity.
In the spirit of sloth, here’s Still Smokin’ from 1983, the final true Cheech and Chong film – if such a thing exists. It’s more of a compilation of mediocre sketches tied together by the most dubious of framing tactics, building to a lacklustre 20-minute chunk of a live performance with routines that the pair’s fans had previously heard a hundred times.
The “story” has Cheech and Chong getting invited to a Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton film festival in Amsterdam (of all places) (of all places). When they arrive, they’re mistaken for Burt and Dolly — try to stay with us here — and panic follows when the festival organizers learn they’re Cheech and Chong. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the pair agrees to put on a stand-up act to generate money for the curiously ignorant promoters, which serves as an odd pretext to cut to concert video. This threadbare story is jarringly punctuated with skits that were embarrassingly awful in 1983 and have since aged like a slab of cheese left out in the sun for a week.
Critics were never very fond of Cheech and Chong, but in the case of Still Smokin’, they were extremely harsh. “Smokin’ demonstrates Cheech and Chong’s contempt for their own audience and makes some of their previous awful flicks appear nice by contrast,” wrote the renowned Gene Siskel. Perhaps it was the negative reviews for this picture that spurred Cheech to persuade Chong to join them on their next project, the one that nearly ended their collaboration.
With The Corsican Brothers, the duo tried their hand at popular humor.
If Still Smokin’ was the final decent Cheech and Chong film, The Corsican Brothers, released in 1984, can only be described as… inappropriate. This is because the team deviated from their established formula for the first and only time to create a straight-up farce, with less-than-stellar results. The plot of the film is a parody of Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 novel of the same name, with Cheech and Chong portraying the eponymous siblings (along with a pair of down-and-out musicians who are given the narrative in the film’s framing device).
While the humour on display isn’t too dissimilar to the pair’s standard wordplay-heavy schtick, The Corsican Brothers is notable primarily for what it lacks — an omission that made Chong less than enthusiastic about his role in the film, despite the fact that he co-wrote and directed it.
The Animated Film Cheech and Chong! is as unimportant as it gets
Following The Corsican Brothers, there was a long period in which Cheech and Chong rarely collaborated and frequently trashed one other. But they finally made up, and in 2013, they delivered their longstanding fans a present in the form of Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie!, which would have been a reason for celebration if it had included any new content. Unfortunately, the film consisted of the guys rehashing 18 of their previously published skits, and the only reason it isn’t lowered on this list is that all of those old sketches are still hilarious.
Born in East L.A. is a surprisingly pleasant mainstream film without Chong.
In 1985, Cheech and Chong released the novelty single “Born in East L.A.” (credited to Cheech and Chong, though the latter was not involved), a parody of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” that told the story of a smart-aleck L.A. resident who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and deported.
The song was a minor hit, helped along by a hilarious video that spent some time in heavy rotation on MTV, and Universal Pictures executive Frank Price, who had previously worked with Cheech and Chong at Columbia Pictures, took notice. Cheech is Not My Real Name (But Don’t Call Me Chong), Cheech’s entertaining 2017 memoir, recalled that Price was eager to turn the song into a feature — as long as Chong was not invited along for the ride. Cheech agreed, despite the fact that the two were barely speaking at the time, and Born in East L.A. was released in theatres in the summer of 1987.
For the duo’s fans, Nice Dream was a nice effort.
Nice Dreams, Cheech and Chong’s third feature film, was released in 1981, and while it didn’t stray too far (or, well, even a few feet) from their established formula, it’s safe to say that the duo knew exactly what their audience wanted. This time, the guys play a couple of slackers who get ridiculously rich selling primo weed out of an ice cream truck, with their recurring character Sgt. Stedanko (Stacy Keach) attempting to catch them. Of course, he does this by consuming the substance in an attempt to mimic his prey’s mental state, which would have only exacerbated the situation even if this strain didn’t have the unfortunate side effect of turning its users into lizards.
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Things Are Tough All Over is Cheech and Chong’s most underappreciated film.
Things Are Tough All Over, released in 1982, seems to get lost in the shuffle among even the most ardent Cheech and Chong fans, possibly due to its placement between the mostly excellent Nice Dreams and the most awful Still Smokin’. Despite the fact that the duo’s trademark dope humor, sight gags, and non-sequiturs were all present and accounted for, the film was their most conventional comedy yet — a buddy road comedy in which everything goes wrong in the most hilarious ways.
Cheech and Chong are enlisted by their employers at a car wash, a pair of wealthy Arabs (also played by Cheech and Chong), to drive a very special limo cross-country, one that has a large sum of money stashed in one of its seats. The stoners, of course, are blissfully unaware of this, so they fund their journey by selling off pieces of the limo as they travel from Chicago to Las Vegas. When they eventually sell the cash-stuffed seat, their bosses are out for vengeance — but as we all know, it’s difficult to track down a couple of blissfully clueless idiots wandering the Nevada desert high on peyote.