BEFORE: OK, a couple bits of business before I get to tonight's review. First off, the title dilemma, which is proving to be something of a problem. As with last night's film - is this film's proper title "Nice Dreams", or "Cheech & Chong's Nice Dreams"? The poster image suggests that I include the name of its two stars, as does my cable programming guide, but the IMDB title suggests that I leave them off, as does Wikipedia, and the opening credit sequence. So I'm in favor of letting the title be the title, and not including the possessive, but I'll probably have to re-visit the issue tomorrow.
Secondly, this is the third of the films Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong made together, but I'm watching it second. And their second film, I plan to watch fourth. Why? Because there's an actress in film #2 who I'm using for my lead-out, and this just happens to put a political-themed film right after the start of the Republican Convention. If I planned this, I did so subconsciously, but I'm going to roll with it - I've learned to appreciate the little coincidences that the gods of scheduling throw my way.
Finally, I need to announce the first-ever re-watch in the history of the project. With nearly 2,400 films under my belt in under 8 years, it's extremely rare that I've found the time to watch any film more than once. (I think the exceptions to this have only been seeing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" twice, and watching "Whiplash" a second time to show it to my mother.) But specifically to re-visit a film for the purposes of possibly altering its score, so far I've never done that. The film is "The Slammin' Salmon", and I watched it a few years back, by myself - since then, my wife watched it on a friend's recommendation, and she told me it was hilarious. Apparently I didn't find it to be that funny, even though I enjoy the other films from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, particularly "Beerfest" and "Super Troopers". If I stumble on either of those on cable, I'll usually watch to the end.
And in re-watching the film, I realized a few mistakes I made. #1 - I watched an edited version of the film, which aired on Comedy Central. However, in my defense, no premium channels were running it at the time. #2 - I watched it alone, which can make a comedy less funny. These things should sometimes be shared, however, again in my defense, my wife had no interest in the film when I watched it. We all come to these things in our own time, which is why it took me several decades to get around to Cheech & Chong.
OK, so the bottom line, after watching "The Slammin' Salmon" together today - I'll admit the comedy is funnier than I remember, perhaps I was having an off day or was in a bad mood. But I still maintain that it's not nearly as funny, for whatever reason, as "Beerfest" or "Super Troopers". It's all about context, perhaps. But I still can't get over some very fundamental story problems. Which is weird, because when I watched the new "Ghostbusters", I didn't get all bent out of shape and say, "This is such crap, because ghosts aren't real!" If a movie is funny enough, it shouldn't matter. When I say, "Yeah, but a real restaurant wouldn't be run this way..." it means that the movie didn't go far enough away from reality to get me to suspend my disbelief.
THE PLOT: Disguised as ice cream vendors, Cheech and Chong make--and subsequently lose--millions of dollars selling a batch of marijuana with an unusual side effect.
AFTER: It's appropriate, I suppose, that I brought up the issue of how far a comedy should stray from reality. It's worth debating, I suppose, what I call the "Buy-In". I think some people can just turn off their minds and enjoy a comedy, and sometimes that's exactly what you're supposed to do, but I sometimes find it difficult. Like I said, for "Ghostbusters" the buy-in would involve believing ghosts are real, but the movie (both versions) sort of leads you into it slowly. For "Star Wars", the buy-in involves believing in life on other planets, and that there's futuristic technology there, even though the film is set in the past. Then there's that whole scrawl about galactic war and rebellion and stuff, but even though the buy-in is high, the pay-off makes it worthwhile.
So if there's a high buy-in here, it concerns two slackers selling marijuana from a converted ice-cream truck that has "Happy Herbs" written on the side, and other such altered lettering which would make it blatantly obvious to anyone with a brain what they're really selling - and this was back in 1981, long before pot was legal anywhere, including California. Or that they could make millions doing this, when together they don't seem smart enough to even DRIVE the truck, let alone profit from it. Then we come to the side-effects of their genetically-altered drugs, which seem to be turning people into a whole different species, yet this is not intended as a horror or sci-fi film.
Maybe I'm overthinking things. Maybe I demand too much from a comedy - it's got to land in a pocket that's closer than this to reality, but still be outlandish enough to entertain. Maybe these guys were just 30 or so years ahead of their time, and they accidentally predicted legal marijuana, genetically modified produce and its hazardous effects, not to mention the inadequacies of California's mental health programs. A couple of Nostra-dumbasses, I guess.
But as I said last night, I feel that I'm outside this film's target audience. And not just because I don't partake (par-toke?) but because I can't switch off the part of my brain that demands that things make sense, even within the reality that they create for themselves. I look for logic and structure and dramatic devices perhaps where others don't, and when things don't connect properly the way I feel they should in a movie, it comes across to me (more or less) as nonsense. Right or wrong, I look for ways that things could be "better" according to the language of film.
So I'm just going to take a step back and regard this as the story of two men failing upwards, and in that sense, it's really no different from the antics of Abbott & Costello, or Martin & Lewis. All of these teams had their time and place, as did the Marx Brothers, Hope & Crosby, Bob & Doug McKenzie, the Blues Brothers, and so forth until you get to modern films like "The Heat" or "The Hangover".
Also starring Stacy Keach (also carrying over from "Up in Smoke"), Peter Jason (last seen in "Sunset"), Tim Rossovich (last seen in "Stick"), Evelyn Guerrero, Paul "Pee-Wee" Reubens, Michael Masters, Suzanne Kent, with cameos from Tony Cox, Sandra Bernhard, Shelby Chong, Timothy Leary, Michael Winslow.
RATING: 4 out of 10 straight jackets