Judge Joel Pearce once got arrested for writing a review about a drug movie.
United States of America vs. Thomas B Kin Chong
Looking back over the last few decades of comedy routines, it's hard to imagine anything much more harmless than Cheech and Chong. Of course, stoners gravitated toward it, but they would gravitate toward anything that acknowledged their existence (see Reefer Madness for proof of this). In any other political milieu, no one would see any harm in Tommy Chong setting up an Internet paraphernalia shop. In America's current climate, however, this was a recipe for disaster.
a/k/a Tommy Chong follows the arrest and nine month detainment of Tommy Chong as a scapegoat for the new war on terrorism (for real). It seems that selling some bongs is actually aiding the drug war that finances terrorist groups overseas, at least according to the current federal government. Naturally, this documentary isn't especially interested in offering up a balanced view of the situation, but given the situation, I'm not sure it's possible to approach things with balance.
For a grassroots, reactionary documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong has a lot going for it. The story is a compelling one, and it's laid out well. Enemies of the Bush administration couldn't even dream up a more shocking story to show the ridiculous lengths the government has gone to in order to fight the so-called war on terror. It helps that Tommy Chong doesn't end up being what you'd expect if all you've seen of him is old Cheech and Chong material. He is intelligent and soft-spoken, baffled and frustrated by the predicament he's found himself in.
He also proves himself to be a bit of a hero. No one would imagine that he would actually end up serving jail time for his minor crime (indeed, he's even captured through a questionable police operation). When it looks like a possibility, he takes the jail time in stride, willing to protect his wife and sons, who were also involved in the business. The result is a story that strikes a perfect balance between shock, light humor, and pathos. Anyone who still feels good about living in the United States should give this disc a spin.
The transfer quality is about on par with what you'd expect from such a small production. The video is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, but the image quality is decent considering the filming conditions. The audio is well-mixed stereo, so the voices are always clear. While there are few extras, we do get several sequences that were sliced out of the original film. In all, there's no reason for fans not to pick up the DVD.
For whatever reason, I didn't hear much about this court case while it was happening. a/k/a Tommy Chong came as a surprising discovery, then, and I was shocked to see the story unfold. It also covers a lot of Tommy Chong's own life, too, so any fan of Cheech and Chong, drugs, or democracy should really track down a copy of this disc. I would say it's easily worth a purchase as well, because it's the kind of film you want to share with your friends. It's still hard to believe that Tommy Chong's arrest and imprisonment would actually happen, and the documentary covers the whole story with aplomb.
Not guilty, and by that I mean both the documentary and its subject.
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