Up in Smoke is a 1978 American stoner comedy film directed by Lou Adler in Cheech & Chong’s first feature-length film…..which stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Edie Adams, Strother Martin, Stacy Keach, and Tom Skerritt….at a time when Cheech & Chong had been a counterculture comedy team for about ten years before they started reworking some of their material for their first film. Much of the film was shot in Los Angeles, California….including scenes set in Tijuana….while scenes set on the Mexican border were actually filmed at the border in Yuma, Arizona.
The movie was negatively received upon its release….solely because it was about smoking “pot” at a time when it was not as socially acceptable as it is today….so, now Up in Smoke is viewed more positively….for this film has been given the credit of establishing the stoner comedy genre…..which makes this a rare piece in our Imasportsphile vintage library.
The story line is about Anthony “Man” Stoner…..who is a jobless, marijuana-smoking drummer who is told to either get a job by sundown or be sent off to military school by his parents. Anthony leaves the house in a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle convertible….which had his father’s Rolls Royce radiator grille on the front….a car which is subsequently left smoking on the side of the road. Anthony is picked up while hitchhiking by the equally enthusiastic smoker Pedro de Pacas…..whose license plate reads MUF DVR (“Muff Diver”)….as they immediately share a large joint….which Man says is made with “mostly Maui wowie” and “Labrador”….being essentially dog feces….as his dog, a Labrador Retriever, had eaten his stash. Police find their car parked on a traffic median with them in it….when they discover that they are clearly stoned and arrest them. At trial, the pair are released on a technicality after Anthony discovers that the judge is drinking vodka.
In an attempt to procure marijuana, they visit Pedro’s cousin Strawberry, a Vietnam War veteran….when they narrowly escape a police raid on Strawberry’s house while Strawberry has a flashback and thinks the police are the Viet Cong….but are soon deported to Tijuana, by the INS (la migra), along with Pedro’s relatives….who actually called the INS on themselves….so they could get a free ride to a wedding in Tijuana. In order to get back to the United States they arrange to pick up a vehicle from Pedro’s uncle’s upholstery shop….but arrive at the wrong address….which happens to be a disguised marijuana processing plant. They end up unknowingly involved in a plot to smuggle a van constructed completely out of “fiberweed”….which is hardened THC resin derived from marijuana….thus the play on the word fiberglass….as they are to drive the vehicle from Mexico to Los Angeles….with an inept police narcotics unit led by the overly zealous Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach) hot on their heels….when at the Mexican–American border they almost get arrested but attention is diverted to a group of nuns….cuz Man had thrown away his joint in order to not be caught by the border patrol….which fell into the nuns’ car by accident). The duo then narrowly cross the border into America and pass Stedenko who is giving an interview to Toyota Kawasaki a newswoman. Stedenko then finds out from his unit that they apprehended the wrong group and they begin to chase after Pedro and Man….but the cops don’t get far due to the fact that one of Stedenko’s men accidentally shoots one of the tires to the car they were in.
Along the way, Pedro and Man pick up two women….who convince them to perform at a Battle of the Bands contest at the Roxy Theatre….when Pedro and Man tell the women they need marijuana and the women convince them to see Gloria….a police dispatcher who sells drugs being held as evidence. Gloria informs the women she can’t sell them any drugs as the police destroyed the evidence they were holding….but there should be some in stock soon as the police were searching all over town for a huge stash….which the police do not realize is currently sitting in the police station parking lot. They narrowly avoid another arrest, at one point, after being pulled over by a police motorcyclist, but the officer gets high from the burning “fiberweed” emanating from the van’s exhaust…and lets them go after asking for a hot dog one of them was eating.
When they arrive at the venue, most of the bands that are performing are negatively received by the audience. One of the women gives Man what she believes is an “upper”….although upon seeing his reaction to the drug….which was causing him to feel out of it….she checks her pills and says “I think I ****ed up,”….indicating that she gave him the wrong drugs. Later, the duo’s band, Alice Bowie, Ay Les Voy (“Here I come to you” in Spanish), wins the contest and a recording contract with a performance of their song, Earache My Eye….and despite a rough start to their performance….they win after everyone, including the cops, get stoned due to a large amount of marijuana smoke from the burning van being funneled into the venue.
The film concludes with Pedro and Man driving in the former’s car and dreaming how their future career will pay off. Man then lights a small portion of hash and gives some to Pedro. However, it falls into his lap, causing him to panic and swerve the car while trying to put it out; Man attempts to put the hash out with his beer. During the scuffle, the car swerves down the road and smoke billows out the windows over the end credits.
Up In Smoke is a rare piece of “marijuana smoking history”…..which happens to be hilarious….and certainly a successful introduction into the movie industry for Cheech and Chong….and for the “pot in the movies”.