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Roaming Stoners

Every pot joke – not just stoner movies or comedy routines, but every joke – owes something to Up in Smoke. It’s lazy, slow, and aimless unless there’s smoke involved. Then it’s excited. Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong blend together, a duo of hippie stoners out to do… nothing really.

Up in Smoke lives as a cultural touchstone. Released in 1978 as Pablo Escobar ramped up his drug production and Jimmy Carter showed indifference toward marijuana, Cheech and Chong have a blast in those circumstances. The sense of anti-establishment runs through Up in Smoke, featuring incompetent cops bumbling about, outwitted by the title pair.

At the start, the two aimlessly wander through California seeking a high. By the end, they’re superstars in the blossoming punk rock scene – if only because the entire audience is stoned. Nothing happens in-between, barring giant joint smoking, deportation, and the unknowing delivery of a van made out of pot. It’s so disconnected from any central plot, yet joyfully so and the apathetic attitude toward filmmaking didn’t change by Next Movie. They just kept smoking. It worked.

… disconnected from any plot and random, but joyfully so

Much of the praise for Up in Smoke comes from its landmark quality. Cinema didn’t broach the topic of illicit drugs before this, at least not with such casualness. Up in Smoke crashes often, on screen without much in the way of comedy or purpose. It’s a drag, ironically. Gags hunt for the lowest demonstrator too, including after effects of an errant burrito and other bathroom humor. Contemporary comedy reaches low levels, but few feel as dirty as Up in Smoke.

In the years after its release, the deeply conservative Reagan administration re-ignited the drug war. Funny how Up in Smoke felt even gutsier, then in the burgeoning home video era. VHS boxes of Up in Smoke looked like a cinematic middle finger to an entire government. Now, with legalization nearing greater probability, it’ll be seen as a satirical relic to anti-drug ineptitude. One gag works particularly well at this time. An immigration raid is set up by immigrants themselves so they can get a free bus ride to a family member’s wedding.

Further stupidity by officials, outsmarted by a duo who don’t even realize their smarts. They’re too stoned to know.


Forty years after its initial release, Up in Smoke earns a glamorous makeover for the Blu-ray. Paramount cleanly restores this stoner classic, adding new vibrancy. Cheech’s red/yellow outfit soars, and the California scenery looks fantastic. Saturation douses the screen in primaries (greenery included) with sensational vividness.

Contrast helps, never falling off, soaking in the Cali sun. This comes with dazzling black levels, hiding some of the expected murkiness of a ‘70s era film stock. Up in Smoke pops like few films of this era do.

Encoding comes up against a challenge, battling heavy smoke and grain but coming away with the win. Even in darker scenes where grain swarms, there’s little to no evidence of compression concerns.

At the heart is a visibly high-res master. Facial definition and overall sharpness impress with their consistency. Wide exteriors of highways and other locations stand out for their resolution. It’s a late ‘70s travelogue at times, and catching landmarks is easy with this much clarity. There’s not a scratch or stray mark anywhere on the print to sour things either.


A wide front soundstage features in a rudimentary DTS-HD mix. Forget the 5.1 designation – this is more of a 3.0. At the start as Cheech wakes up, the TV in the house slips into the stereo channels, changing position depending on Cheech’s movement. Cars likewise pass between the fronts, adding some space to an otherwise center-mixed track.

Some expected dryness from age sits in the mix. Dubbed dialog stands out against the live recordings. The various songs survive relatively unscathed though.


Cheech Marin joins director Lou Adler for a commentary track and they continue their chat over eight deleted scenes if you wish. A new retrospective titled How Pedro Met the Man runs 15-minutes, featuring Marin, Chong, and Adler reminiscing about the film. It’s fun. A similar but older featurette, Lighting it Up, doesn’t offer much over the latter. Some music videos and trailers come in last.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong begin their trek through stoner cinema via Up in Smoke, a lazy, stubborn classic of the genre.

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3 (1 vote)

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