As I’ve noted before, I’m not a big fan of stoner comedies and other comedies that are entirely about people acting stupidly. There’s a tendency to go straight for vulgarity and to go to the extremes of low-brow humor. There’s nothing wrong with being a little low-brow (one of my favorite films is Three Amigos, after all), but a comedy about stupidity has to be written intelligently in order to be funny. All too often it’s easy to sacrifice the cleverness while reaching for a joke that’s basically just “Ha ha, this guy’s dumb.”
Still, I do like to give things a chance. So I thought I’d check out the elder statesmen of the stoner comedy, Cheech and Chong, in their film Nice Dreams. Besides being written by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, and starring the duo as their usual same-named characters, it was also directed by Chong. It should therefore be about as Cheechy and Chongy as a Cheech and Chong film can get. Sadly, although I consider their record “Dave” to be tremendously funny, that wit is not on display here.
Also, way too much of Cheech is on display.
Cheech and Chong are ice cream vendors in Los Angeles who really make most of their money selling dope out of their ice cream truck. They’ve made a lot of money on marijuana, and are considering their retirement plans. Unfortunately, Chong’s carelessness leads to them losing the money (to Paul Reubens in a strange and almost-amusing minor role), and they’re also being tailed by the L.A.P.D. narcotics division. However, only one of the detectives, played by Peter Jason, seems to actually care very much about catching the drug dealing duo in the act. His partner is just a quiet-spoken loon, and the sergeant, played by Stacy Keach, is more interested in getting the drugs for his own recreational use.
The plot, such as it is, is fairly simple but could easily sustain a movie. But if you’ve ever had the misfortune of being made to listen to a narrative from a habitual stoner, you know that having a strong narrative through-line, a sense of timing, and an ability to stay on task are not among their strong suits. And if you’ve watched a lot of comedies, you know that these things are usually vital elements to a good, funny film. Nice Dreams ambles and rambles, always cheerfully and occasionally amusingly, but it has a hard time building up the narrative to a point where the laughter is sustainable. It becomes almost a series of vignettes, watching these characters get into one odd situation after another. The main plot is lost at several points, and at the end is resolved in a perfunctory manner, with an ending that is jumped to without the intervening steps, as if a few minutes of the film simply went missing and nobody noticed. And the strange subplot involving the altered marijuana turning people into lizards is essentially there for its own sake, having no connection to anything else in the plot.
And Stacy Keach mugging for the camera doesn’t add enough to justify it.
The whole thing feels a little bit tired, as if Cheech and Chong are just going through the motions. There simply isn’t enough substance to Nice Dreams to make it funny. Maybe it’s because it’s the third Cheech and Chong film; perhaps I would have enjoyed the first better. Or perhaps it’s one of those situations where only people who are within the culture can really “get it”. But I’ve always found that to be an unsatisfactory answer when it comes to movies, and particularly with stoner comedies. After all, if a film can only be enjoyed while using a substance that artificially elevates peoples’ moods, doesn’t that mean it’s not really a very good film?