Pedro (Cheech Marin) wakes up on the sofa to the sound of cartoons on the television and surrounded by kids, so after planting his bare foot in a bowl of cereal he trudges to the bathroom where he accidentally relieves himself in the clothes basket. Today he will have a fateful meeting with Anthony (Tommy Chong), better known as "Man", who at that moment is being harangued by his rich parents about getting a job, advice he completely fails to heed. He drives off in his car, which breaks down by the beach, forcing him to hitchhike to his destination, and who should pick him up but Pedro who stops for Man thinking he's a woman. Little do they know what a team they will make together...
Stoner humour finally arrived in the cinema with Up in Smoke, the first film of successful comedy double act Cheech and Chong - unless you count Skidoo, I suppose. Or that campfire bit in Easy Rider. Well, OK, maybe it had already arrived, but nobody had made an entire career out of it until these two were introduced to the scene, having already made a string of big-selling albums prior to trying out their self-indulgent jokes on the big screen. Cheech was the fast talking (i.e. talented) one and Chong was the perpetually dazed one, and here their characters were so well defined that quite an amount of the film seemed improvised.
Certainly until something resembling a plot shows up, the movie proceeds like one of their album routines only with pictures. Once the duo are united in Pedro's car, we're on familiar territory: gags about marijuana smoking and plenty of them. The main crux of this is, once Pedro has got over his disappointment that he hasn't picked up a young lady, that they have shared interest in the narcotic, and when Man produces a huge joint a friendship is secured. Never mind that the joint came out of a dog when Man's pet ate his stash, they now have common ground.
A running joke (as far as Up In Smoke has anything as structured as a running joke) has the duo being continually pulled over by the cops, which lands them in court. Once released, they go looking for something to relax them and end up at a 'nam vet relative of Pedro's known as Strawberry because of his birthmark (which you must not stare at). Naturally there's some funny business when Strawberry (Tom Skerritt) suffers flashbacks to the war, and the extended cameo roles some stars are treated to are by and large pretty successful.
But the main storyline has Pedro and Man smuggling a van sprayed with marijuana over the Mexican border, an act that Sergeant Stedenko will stop if he can. Stedenko is played by Stacy Keach displaying a real gift for comedy (more so than Tommy Chong if truth be told) as the uptight cop who predictably has his plans fall down around his ears, especially in light of his useless team. Cheech and Chong will never be as popular a double act as, for example, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, but Up In Smoke emerged as the one film of the comedians it was alright to like thanks to more jokes hitting their target than you might expect. Sure, it feels as if it were made up as it went along, but the inevitably easygoing nature of the humour means that, stoned or not, you're guaranteed enough laughs to make this less of a waste of time than their critics might have you believe.