Everyone's favorite easy-going, music-loving, hilarious pot-loving duo, Cheech and Chong, drive their way onto Blu-ray with Up In Smoke. Less of a plotted movie than a series of great gags, Cheech and Chong still deliver plenty of great comedy with their loose story and improvisational stylings. The film's 40th Anniversary Blu-ray debut is a solid effort bringing all of the hilarious antics with a strong A/V presentation and a bunch of great bonus features. Fans of the film are sure to dig it while newcomers should consider this one Recommended.
40 years is a long time for any movie to not only wriggle its way into the cultural zeitgeist but also hold its position there. Did stars Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong really think that their breakout hit flick Up In Smoke would still be culturally relevant today? Or was it all a supposed to be a goof to make some quick cash? Whatever their initial intentions, their debut was a big hit and spawned numerous sequels. Forty years later, the story of two aimless stoners searching for just a little smoke as they drive a van literally made of marijuana across the border is just as funny today as it was when it lit its way into theaters.
California is a variable desert. No one can score. All the dealers and fiends out there are just trying to get a lid's worth to take the edge off. When two stoner pals Pedro (Cheech Marin) and The Man (Tommy Chong) get deported after trying to score some smoke, they don't quite realize they're about to score the opportunity of a lifetime. Hired by his uncle to transport a van across the border into the United States, Cheech and Chong continue their search for a hit - even though they're driving a vehicle literally made of the stuff! With the tenacious Sergeant Stedenko (Stacy Keach) hot on their tails, the boys decide entering a rock competition is the best way to get the cash they need to score.
It's really weird for someone in their mid-thirties who went through the excruciatingly silly D.A.R.E. program and the sanctimonious "War on Drugs" to witness a time where states are starting to reevaluate the legality of marijuana. One by one, more states are deciding that what was feared as the ultimate gateway drug to a life on the street really isn't so bad as compared to the stuff that's legally prescribed and killing people every single day. Considering all things, I was worried this tidal change would diminish the comedic value of Up In Smoke. Thankfully that isn't the case at all. If anything, this shift has made the film funnier - especially as you examine ineffectual drug enforcement in the guise of Stacy Keach's Sergeant Stedenko.
That isn't to say that Up In Smoke is a perfect example of comedy. It does have its rough patches. This primarily stems from Cheech and Chong's penchant for improvisational humor rather than tightly scripted comedy. Forgoing a script, Cheech and Chong's focus on comedy was to storyboard scenarios and then let the performers do their work and let the silliness of the moment dictate what they say. Sometimes this works like Tom Skerritt's Strawberry and his Viet Nam flashbacks during a police raid. On the other hand, Stedenko's team of Narcs are duds. Keach is committed to the part and his overbearing belief that he's the red line on the map in the war on drugs makes his character hilarious as the obvious slips right under his nose - but the team he has to work with aren't funny. They're supposed to highlight this ineffectual approach, but they're too dimwitted and slow to actually be funny. The ups and downs keep the hijinks of Up In Smoke a bit uneven but thankfully when it works it's hilarious.
As the first of seven cinematic outings between Cheech and Tommy, Up In Smoke may not quite be the best of them (for me Nice Dreams is the funnier flick), but this first time out is still pretty hilarious. I'm glad that in the twenty-odd some years since I saw this film for the first time in high school that it still makes me laugh. There's nothing like revisiting an old favorite after a number of years and finding out your tastes have changed and it isn't that funny anymore. Up In Smoke is a 40th Anniversary well worth celebrating.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Up In Smoke arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount Home Video in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in a two-disc eco-friendly Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
As this is the first outing for Up In Smoke on Blu-ray, I'm pleasantly surprised at the results for this 2.35:1 1080p presentation. This would appear to have been a recent master and not merely one that was recycled from the numerous previous DVD releases over the years. Film grain is apparent throughout and is stable most of the time. There are a few scenes here and there where the film grain thickens and for lack of a better word can look a bit hazy, but overall this is a very pleasing film-like appearance. Details are strong throughout allowing you to take in the finer points of the film. Colors are bright and bold with some terrific primary pop. Reds look great and the dark herbal green of the truck comes through perfectly. There are some soft spots here and there, but nothing to get too worked up about. Free of any notable dame or age-related wear and tear, this is a fine first Blu-ray outing for this comedy classic.
Up In Smoke arrives with a solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. While there are some great surround effects, this is largely a front/center channel focused affair. Dialogue comes through crystal clear throughout without any background element interference. Like I said, there isn't a whole lot of surround focused activity, the activity helps fill scenes and give a sense of space and atmosphere. Some great effects on the road when the guys get pulled over or when they're at their big final rock concert event plays nicely with the surrounds. Music is also well rendered throughout as there are a number of classic tunes that get big moments during the movie. Without any hiss, pops or other age-related issues, this is a solid audio mix.
True to a 40th Anniversary special edition, Up In Smoke comes with a great assortment of bonus features. The audio commentary track is great and there's plenty of nice retrospective materials to dig through.
Audio Commentary features Cheech Marin and director Lou Adler. This is a great little commentary as the pair cover a lot of behind the scenes stuff, as well as dissecting the various jokes and scenarios they concocted but only loosely scripted.
How Pedro Met The Man: Up In Smoke At 40 (HD 15:15) Features interviews with Cheech and Chong along with Lou Adler. The trio talks about the movie, their own personal drug usage, as well as a bunch of funny stuff. I wish this was longer because it's a lot of fun.
Roach Clips (SD 11:29) This is a collection of outtakes and deleted segments. Some of this material is pretty good but it's understandable why it was cut. Also features an optional commentary with Lou Adler and Cheech Marin.
Lighting It Up: A Look Back at Up In Smoke (SD 11:11)
"Earache My Eye" Music Video (SD 5:43)
Cheech & Chong's "The Man Song" (SD 2:35)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 3:02)
Radio Spots (2: 59) You gotta love how they used to market movies through the radio!
As the fathers of "High" comedy, Cheech and Chong live on in infamy largely due to their breakout classic Up In Smoke. 40 years on and this film still hits the funny bone in the right places. It may be a bit bumpy in spots given the loose improvisational style of comedy. For a first film, it's still pretty great and the last 40 years have been very kind to this film. Paramount Home Video brings Up In Smoke to Blu-ray for the first time in grand fashion with a solid A/V presentation and a pretty great assortment of bonus features. Fans who have been waiting for this flick to hit HD will be very pleased with this Blu-ray release. Recommended.