Cheech & Chong was, and always will be, a right of passage. Up in Smoke seems the seminal "pot" movie of one's teenage years, but after four or five viewings, it starts becoming obvious that being a pothead is, well, pretty stupid. We spend several hundred million (if not more) on imprisoning people who smoke and deal drugs a year. After 9/11, it was wildly agreed that drug policy should take a back seat and we should go hunting for Al Qaeda until they're brought to justice, or to Guantanamo. Even John Ashcroft said this, but it's obvious now that we didn't mean it.
In October 2003, Tommy Chong, the gentler half of the famed comedy duo of Cheech & Chong, was sent to a minimum security slammer for selling a few bongs to a guy in Pennsylvania, who turned out to be a DEA agent. The raid of Chong's business cost an otherworldly amount of manpower, for what ended up being a small warehouse on the West Coast. Is this what we were really concerned with in our most urgent time? A few bongs being shipped over state lines? Josh Gilbert uses Chong's incarceration as a quaint joke to show how the current administration absurdly spends money on small take downs like Chong's warehouse. Celebrities and journalists, including Jay Leno, Peter Coyote, and Bill Maher, are brought in en masse to point out the utter silliness of imprisoning Chong.
Structurally, the film doesn't have a leg to stand on. It jumps, with glee, from the counter-culture that embraced marijuana to Chong's home life to the creation of Cheech & Chong to the current administration's Operation Pipe Dreams. Though this doesn't take away from the film's statement, it softens the study of Chong as a character and finds its own schizophrenic pace. This puts a much bigger stress on the issue of drug policy in the country, a topic that could easily span over 10 hours, never mind the film's 78-minute runtime. The most sincere and entertaining moments are watching Chong, a true one-of-a-kind. An extremely laid-back, gentle man, Chong seems more like a crazy but endearing uncle than the half-witted stoner we watched in Lou Adler's famed pot movie. He talks sensibly and seems like a real family man, who just happens to like having a jay every once in awhile.
So, why did the government seem so full-steam about arresting Tommy Chong? The consensus seems to be that the government wanted to put the aging counter-culture in their place, stating that Cheech & Chong put the druggie lifestyle into favorable light. Perhaps, but as Chong points out, Up in Smoke was quite critical of the life of people who just constantly got high and did nothing but looked for more drugs. The question never brought up, not even in the film, is why this lifestyle seems so positive to the kids in America, both then and now. The answer has too many social realizations to handle at present, and therefore Gibson's film might have its point in introducing the tip of the iceberg into evidence; it just should have gone for more. At the very least it should have had an interview from current nutcase/marijuana advocate David R. Ford. But hey, Dave ain't here, man.
Aka Aka Tommy Chong.