Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke is a 1978 American stoner comedy film directed by Lou Adler and starring Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Edie Adams, Strother Martin, Stacy Keach, and Tom Skerritt. It is Cheech & Chong's first feature-length film.

Up in Smoke
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLou Adler
Produced by
Written by
Music by
CinematographyGene Polito
Edited byScott Conrad
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 15, 1978 (1978-09-15)
Running time
86 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[2]
Box office$44.4 million[3]

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.

While negatively received upon its release, Up in Smoke is credited with establishing the stoner comedy genre and is now considered a classic.


Anthony "Man" Stoner (Tommy Chong),[4] a jobless, marijuana-smoking drummer, 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 (Cheech Marin). The license plate reads MUF DVR ("Muff Diver"). They share a large joint, which Man says is made with "mostly Maui wowie" and "Labrador" (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, 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 (Tom Skerritt), a Vietnam War veteran. Strawberry's nickname is derived from the large birthmark on his face and neck. Pedro tells Man not to look at the birthmark, but of course Man does and makes a remark. 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, a disguised marijuana processing plant. They end up unknowingly involved in a plot to smuggle a van constructed completely out of "fiberweed" (hardened THC resin derived from marijuana - a play on the word fiberglass) from Mexico to Los Angeles, with an inept police narcotics unit, led by the overly zealous Sgt. Stedenko (Stacy Keach) hot on their heels. At the Mexican–American border, they almost get arrested but attention is diverted to a group of nuns (Man had thrown away his joint, in order to avoid capture 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. They don't get far, however, after 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. Pedro and Man tell the women they need marijuana; 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", though, 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 fucked 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, despite a rough start to their performance; they win over everyone, including the cops, who 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.




As this was the comedy team's first film, Paramount wanted the initial screenings to be filled with their most ardent fans.[5] Cheech and Chong also came up with the novel (and ultimately successful) idea of advertising the film through comic strips, which they left on bus benches. The film opened first in Texas to huge business, and also later in Canada boosted by strong word of mouth.[5]

Box office

The film was a huge success, earning $44,364,244 at the domestic box office,[3] making it the 15th highest-grossing film of 1978.

Critical reception

Up in Smoke received mixed to negative reviews, now earning a 47% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 19 critics. The site's consensus is; "Oft-quoted but undeniably flawed, Up In Smoke is a seminal piece of stoner cinema thanks to the likability of its two counterculture icons."[6]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "a genially slapdash, sometimes winning live-action cartoon" with "several genuinely funny moments."[7] Variety wrote that the film "gets off to a great start" but "once the more obvious drug jokes are exhausted, Adler lets the film degenerate into a mixture of fitful slapstick and toilet humor."[8] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film half of one star out of four, calling it "one of the most juvenile, poorly written, awkwardly directed pictures I have ever seen. And my guess is that even if you saw it in a pleasantly altered state whether from grass, a banana daiquiri, Frango mint milkshake, or a Weight Watchers' Veal Parmigiana frozen dinner, 'Up in Smoke' would still be a real downer, man."[9] He later put it on his year-end unranked list of the worst films of 1978.[10] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Cheech & Chong were "a likable, funky duo, but the script they've come up with for their film debut is severely underwritten." He also found it "hard to watch the effects of gulping Quaaludes and the like being treated as something hilarious—especially when one realizes that the kids for whom the film was so clearly intended are probably going to love it."[11]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker compared the film favorably to The Groove Tube, writing that Up in Smoke was "also crudely done but is more consistently funny." She added that "Cheech and Chong are so gracefully dumb-assed that if you're in a relaxed mood you can't help laughing at them."[12] Art Harris of The Washington Post wrote that the film "may give you a buzz, but don't count on it to keep you high. Like, you know, the film suffers from a bad case of burn-out, leading one to nod off between jokes and wonder why producer Lou Adler bothered to attempt a Doper's Delight in this post-Woodstock age of Clean Living."[13] David McGillivray of The Monthly Film Bulletin observed that the film "looks, unfortunately, as if it were more fun to make than it is to watch."[14]

The film was banned in the country of South Africa during the era of its apartheid regime. Censors in the country said that the film "might encourage the impressionable youth of South Africa to take up marijuana smoking".[15]

See also


  1. "UP IN SMOKE (X)". British Board of Film Classification. October 18, 1976. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  2. Buchalter, Gail. "Cheech & Chong's Joint Career Is a Smoke Screen: at Home They're Not Potheads but Proud Papas". People. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  3. "Up in Smoke, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  4. Chong's character name is used only once. It is during the scene in which his father berates him, and his mother calls him "Anthony".
  5. Litwak, Mark (1986). Reel Power: The Struggle for Influence and Success in the New Hollywood. New York: William Morrow & Co. p. 251. ISBN 0-688-04889-7.
  6. Up in Smoke at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. Canby, Vincent (November 19, 1978). "What's So Funny About Potheads and Toga Parties?". The New York Times. D17.
  8. "Film Reviews: Up In Smoke". Variety. September 13, 1978. p. 13.
  9. Siskel, Gene (September 26, 1978). "Cheech & Chong are one big drag in juvenile 'Up in Smoke'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 7.
  10. Siskel, Gene (January 7, 1979). "Film clips and the year's Top 10 in review". Chicago Tribune. Section 6, p. 3.
  11. Thomas, Kevin (September 29, 1978). "Cheech, Chong Go 'Up in Smoke'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 24.
  12. Kael, Pauline (October 9, 1978). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 162.
  13. Harris, Art (October 6, 1978). "'Up in Smoke' Is A Blast of the Past". The Washington Post. Weekend, p. 19.
  14. McGillivray, David (October 1979). "Up in Smoke". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 46 (549): 213.
  15. "Weed".
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