40 Years Ago: ‘Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie’ Fires Up Another Hit
Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, which premiered on July 18, 1980, is a relic from a time before stoner comedies went mainstream, when everyone and everything was fair game to be made fun of and there was a meaningful divergence between the dropouts and the squares, the counterculture and normal society.
By the time the movie came out, the comedy duo of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong had been together for more than a decade. They were an odd couple. Chong's father had emigrated to Canada from China in the '30s, and Chong grew up in Calgary before moving to Vancouver in the early '60s as the guitar player for a band called Little Daddy & the Bachelors. Marin grew up in South Los Angeles, identifies as Chicano, is the son of a cop and a secretary and moved to Vancouver after college to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War.
The two formed a comedy duo in the late '60s and were soon releasing albums featuring sketches and songs. Four went gold in the U.S. during the '70s, and one – 1974's Los Cochinos – even won a Grammy. In 1978 they made Up in Smoke, a pioneer in the stoner-movie genre, in which they played younger versions of themselves (named Anthony Stoner and Pedro de Pacas) who drive around trying to score weed and eventually end up winning a battle of the bands with their song "Earache My Eye."
The film was a surprise hit, and two years later they followed it up with Cheech and Chong's Next Movie. Released at the height of their popularity, the 1980 movie is composed of a series of sketches in which Cheech and Chong again play stoned versions of themselves, this time using their real names. There is even less of a plot than there is in Up In Smoke, and for the most part they simply wander around Los Angeles, engaging in a series of adventures in trying to score drugs.
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They annoy their uptight neighbor by first destroying his roses (Chong has a motorcycle up on blocks in their living room and sends exhaust out the window) and then wrecking his entire house. Chong parties with Cheech's cousin Red – also played by Marin, but with a hillbilly accent – and they find themselves in a brothel and then playing songs and telling jokes in a posh Beverly Hills house. That leads to a comedy club, where there's an old school Western movie-style brawl. Scattered among all this are run-ins with cops and Latino low-riders, some ridiculously loud guitar playing and a scene in which Chong smokes a cockroach instead of a roach.
In addition to the silliness, there are extended cameos by familiar actors. Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens plays an annoying hotel clerk, Edie McClurg pops up as the matron of the Beverly Hills family, Cassandra Peterson (better known for her role as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) plays one of the prostitutes in the brothel and Michael Winslow (Police Academy's "Man of 10,000 Sound Effects") turns up as a crazy man in a welfare office. In the end, after leading the cops on a high-speed chase, Chong is kidnapped by aliens. He returns to Earth with a beaker of "space coke," which Cheech snorts and gets so high that he smashes through the wall of his house and blasts into orbit before being enveloped by a giant flying joint.
In classic stoner-movie style, most of the humor revolves around the way the pair wreaks havoc on the straight world while meeting eccentric characters and making oddball friends in the counterculture world. Needless to say, much of the comedy wouldn't fly in today's PC culture. Cheech riffs on his Latino heritage throughout, and at one point performs a song called "Mexican Americans" that's basically a compendium of stereotypes. Even the celebration of drugs feels different: There's no attempt at character redemption and no possibility these two will learn some kind of "lesson" about using illicit substances. Joints exist to be smoked, coke is there to be snorted and partying is the goal of life.
Despite this, and despite the fact that the film's jokes and sketches range from truly funny to somewhat dull and everywhere between, it's a refreshing relic. So many of today's comedies feel like they've been co-opted by product-placement contracts and the sensibilities of suited Hollywood execs who want to make sure the average moviegoer won't be too offended by the proceedings; Cheech and Chong's Next Movie is a reminder of what it's like to truly not give a crap about anything.
Most of the best sketches – like the opening one, in which Cheech and Chong steal gasoline by siphoning it into a metal trashcan they carry through the streets of Los Angeles, spilling all over themselves and then blowing themselves up when they light a joint – feel like they were written and performed by two guys who were indeed deeply stoned. Likewise, the target audience should be in a similar space. The movie is a reminder that the world is an absurd place and that anyone who takes themselves seriously in any way can't be trusted. The best people in Cheech and Chong's universe are the ones who can, and do, laugh at everything.
Cheech and Chong's Next Movie isn't a masterpiece, but it manifests a deep, valuable irreverence. It feel like it comes not only from another time but from another world, carrying with it a reminder that sometimes being a dropout has a lot of upside.