Paramount // 1983 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // February 6th, 2009
You can always smell the excitement in the air.
Still Smokin' is the fifth film made by the duo of Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong. Although it's only fitfully amusing, it is a notable film for many surprising reasons.
Cheech and Chong (Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong) are invited to a film festival in Amsterdam, where the organizers mistake them for Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. As the festival's promoter (Hansman In't Veld) bleeds money, Cheech and Chong decide to perform a live concert to help him out.
Watching Still Smokin' is something of a sobering (if you'll pardon the expression) experience. It's only partly because of the film itself, which isn't as good as their first, Up in Smoke (1978), but miles better than most of their others. It's more to do with the context in which it was released. Though Cheech & Chong would continue working together for two more years after Still Smokin', releasing one more film and a comedy album, the film winds up serving as an unintentional epitaph for their career, as well as the time and place that produced their best humor.
Of course, neither Chong (who also directed the film) nor Marin ever meant Still Smokin to carry so much weight. Like most of Cheech & Chong's films, it's extremely (and that's putting it mildly) light on plot. The film festival story is introduced early, but isn't referenced again until the very end, and it's never really resolved. There aren't any villains or notable supporting characters and the only dramatic tension is centered on whether Cheech & Chong will be able to get it together to perform onstage. Of course, this isn't that much different from their other films, which had equally flimsy, if not nonexistent, plots. It's foolish to watch a Cheech & Chong film expecting narrative coherency; ask anyone who's ever heard a pothead trying to tell a story. Their movies were more about lowbrow stoner humor, and in that regard, Still Smokin' does, more or less, get the job done. It's not as laugh-out-loud funny as Up in Smoke, but it actually has several bits that are raunchily entertaining. That puts it well above most of its predecessors, such as Cheech & Chong's Next Movie (1979) and Nice Dreams (1981), which were so obsessed with being crude that they forgot to be funny. For viewers who liked Up in Smoke, this is the next best film of their career; no one outside of hardcore fans needs to see any of their others.
At the same time, it's worth noting that much of the film's best bits are recycled from earlier Cheech & Chong albums. That gives Still Smokin' the feel of a greatest hits collection, and greatest hits collections always come at the end of someone's artistic career. The film reprises several bits from earlier in their career, such as "Blind Lemon Chitlin'," "Queer Wars," and "Championship Wrestling." The climactic live concert, which takes up much of the last half-hour, is also a mixture of some new material and some old, and is generally better than much of the film that precedes it. To be fair, a couple of the newer scenes, particularly the fantasy press conference, are also amusing, but the fact that most of the biggest laughs are recycled can't help but give Still Smokin' the air of a farewell for fans. Cheech & Chong would make one more film, the watered-down and forgettable Corsican Brothers (1984), but in some ways, it would be more fitting to view this film as their sendoff before their fairly acrimonious breakup in 1985. It demonstrates how funny Cheech & Chong could be at their best, but it also shows that they had essentially run out of ideas by that point.
There's another reason Still Smokin' seems to mark the end of an era. By 1983, the drug humor that had been so hip and endearing in the '70s was now hopelessly out of step. Back when they began releasing albums in the early '70s, Cheech and Chong were capturing perfectly the tenor of the druggy times, and as the decade progressed, they became the most popular comedians for a generation in which pot smoking wasn't just cool but almost compulsory. In the '80s, however, that all changed. The rise of Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement was widely viewed as a sharp rebuke to the '70s counterculture that had spawned C&C, and drug use became more taboo and less tolerated. Still Smokin' was released one year after First Lady Nancy Reagan had begun her anti-drug "Just Say No" initiative, which helps explain why the film was a commercial flop upon its release. Their subsequent work, The Corsican Brothers and their last album, Get Out of My Room! (1985), lacked any elements of the drug humor that had made them famous. Still Smokin' stands as probably the last stoner film made by a major studio until the genre was revived in the late '90s; by then the style had been completely divorced from its counterculture roots. In that regard, the film can be seen, improbably enough, as some sort of cultural marker, however flawed and uneven it is artistically.
Paramount has reissued Still Smokin' as part of its I Love the '80s series, but it's the exact same DVD that was issued back in 2006. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix are both quite solid, with little flaws, but are identical to the earlier transfer with no new remastering or remixing of any kind. Similarly, there are no new extras in addition to the previously released theatrical trailer. Well, there is a new four-track CD added in decorated with the hideously tacky I Love the '80s banner that adorns the DVD art. It contains oddly chosen songs by Erasure, INXS, a-ha, and Echo and the Bunnymen, the kind of preppy music that any self-respecting '80s stoner would have avoided like the plague. Had Paramount really put some thought into this package, they would have added a CD with music that '80s stoners actually listened to, like Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden (Note: In accordance with Arizona's statute of limitations, this reviewer disavows any personal knowledge of such activities or the consequences thereof).
If you already own the previous issue of Still Smokin', there is no reason to buy this version, unless you're really jonesing to hear "Take on Me" one more time. Newcomers to Cheech & Chong should start with Up in Smoke and their classic '70s albums, especially Big Bambu (1972) and Los Cochinos (1973), before diving into this film. If you do have some familiarity with C&C's humor, though, Still Smokin' is definitely worth a look, even if it's for reasons that only partly have to do with the film itself.
Uhhh...man, what were we talking about again?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music CD