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Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (Blu-ray Review)

12 Jun, 2017 By: Mike Clark

Street 6/13/17
Shout! Factory
$27.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Evelyn Guerrero, Paul Reubens.

Many or most will note that the cinematics of Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie are as ramshackle as the condemned house its eponymously named characters hazily call home, impressive as that structure’s moldy production design is. But though true, this is, by default, one of the more cogent C&C vehicles out of seven this occasionally uproarious team made in a big-screen run known for its severe downward trajectory — not counting the team’s welcome hoot of a cameo in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, where, in an especially inspired moment, they manage to confuse the two George Segals. Or at least it kind of seems until Next Movie’s dreamy and desperate climactic sequence involving aliens — an ill-conceived capper that’s in no way a laugh match for the bow-tied savior who energizes this comedy’s midsection in a role many will wish were even bigger. Pee-wee, can you hear me?

Next Movie was the duo’s second multiplex bow to the cannabis gods following the sleeper success of their 1978 Up in Smoke debut for Paramount, which not only did business but also landed some good-and-better reviews (its opening 20 minutes or so can still put me on the floor). Indeed, Smoke’s reception was such a surprise that author Stephen Bach’s instant classic Final Cut, about the making of Heaven’s Gate, notes the generational confusion felt by the movie industry’s old guard when (in this case) United Artists execs found themselves seat-rustling in the company’s screening room, trying to figure out why the projected Smoke was selling at the box office. These guys were not, uh, the vehicle’s intended demographic — bringing to mind Johnny Carson’s once-topical crack that if Ronald Reagan became president, he would legalize snuff.

As it turned out, Paramount didn’t hedge its bet, and follow-up Next Movie got distributed by Universal — a studio which, for all of its at least initial in-house inability to “get” a youth-culture comedy like American Graffiti half-a-decade decade earlier, had gotten a lot more loosey-goosey by the late ’70s and early ’80s (Where the Buffalo Roam, which is also just out from Shout Select, had just come out as well). By this time, to be sure, youth-culture movies had changed a lot, and it’s tough to envision — even aside from the time-warp impossibility — David and Ricky Nelson showing a 16mm print of any Cheech & Chong farce two decades earlier during a Kappa Sig movie night. But more contemporaneously, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, isn’t likely to be watching this dual ode to doobie and boobies with his grandchildren. Nor, for that matter, is Next Movie likely to inspire Donald Trump to hop the wall and venture South of the Border for his fourth wife.

Professionally speaking, Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong were to debauchery what Florence Foster Jenkins was to flat notes — and keeping with that motif, no C&C lifestyle tunes have been changed here. Their Next Movie living quarters, as mentioned, is condemned, and you never know what artifacts or worse will be inside, be it a fish tank stocked with cold beers, a large Mason jar with a homemade label that says “Roaches” or (and this is one I’d forgotten) a poster for Flying Down to Rio. The few jobs they fall into last a matter of days or less, Chong revs up his motorcycle to the max indoors while pumping its exhaust fumes out the front window, and the amped-up guitar feedback from their living room speakers all but reduces the surrounding neighborhood to an outtake from Twister. They can’t even collect welfare checks (or, more likely, only attempt to) without Cheech seducing a service rep in her office (or someone’s).

Spotty and eventually a fast-fader, the picture has at least three redeemers, one of which is the welfare set piece itself. Its central bit features another stipend-seeking hopeful played by Michael Winslow (this was well before the “Police Academy” movies) letting go with the usual Winslow arsenal of sound effects for the amusement of others sitting on the same bench, including one senior-citizen wino who seems to be having a grand old time he could probably use. Even better is the work-in-progress song (“Mexican-Americans”) that Cheech struggles to compose — its opening lyrics being “Mexican-Americans don’t just like to get into gang fights/They like flowers and music and white girls named Debbie, too.” And then there’s the eventual appearance of Paul Reubens — and in full Pee-wee Herman mode — as a flophouse desk clerk with attitude who gets ultra- persnickety with Chong and a visiting Cheech relative (a double role for Marin) over an unpaid tab. I saw Next Movie upon release, long before Pee-wee became one of my Main Men, but still, I can’t believe I’d forgotten that he’s here and in something more than a cameo.

Lest anyone misinterpret all this into a brief intended to promote the picture’s status as some unsung classic, Chong’s direction (and here, it’s Thomas Chong, thank you) is only marginally functional: mise-en-scene that’s as mise-en-stoned as the rest. Blu-ray inherently makes the color schemes a bit more intense than the old DVDs, but I’m not aware of any past clamor for a Next Movie high-def rendering when cosmetic stunners like, say, Ryan’s Daughter or most of the ’50s color Renoirs have yet to rate Region A versions.

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