Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers (Tommy Chong, 1984)
A two-man rock band from Texas (at least I think so, with Cheech doing another of his always iffy accents and dressed up in Texas oil baron garb, yet referring to himself as ‘the King’, as if he’s from Nashville) travelling around Paris and jamming out cacophonous music on the streets get paid by local Parisians to stop playing and end up in a restaurant where a young con artist street gypsy (an early appearance from Chong’s own daughter, the young, always cute Rae Dawn) spying them counting their earnings, in exchange for a bundle of cash tells them a story of the French Revolution, starting with the birth of the Corsican Brothers (played, of course, by the two), who grow up to discover they can psychically feel each other’s pains and pleasures and ultimately, through a stumbling series of misadventures, end up sparking the French Revolution.
Oh, how the once mighty have fallen (and make no mistake, Up in Smoke was mighty!). Chronologically following along with these Richard ‘Cheech’ Marin and Tommy Chong efforts has provided an increasingly downward trajectory as far as entertainment value goes (can it be a coincidence that as they moved away from the drug references and humor, all those genuinely catchy, funny and rockin’ musical numbers that felt like a fabric of their earlier films have dried up, along with, overall, almost all but the barest whiffs of inspiration? Time to get back to the drugs, guys!), with their last (and fifth) entry Still Smokin’ being the absolute nadir (watching the boys trying their best through sheer chutzpah to disguise how lame the material they’d come up with almost felt like some kind of weird train wreck performance art), I’ve gotten to the same point as I remember the overall general public had at the time; not particularly enthusiastic to keep watching (but I will! I shall fulfill my destiny of seeing all things Cheech and Chong! At least, since I’m including the duo’s film cameos as well, I have Martin Scorsese’s highly enjoyable After Hours to look forward to).
With their stoner personas having run almost entirely out of steam and, coming soon after their (not particularly inspired) cameos in the reasonably enjoyable Yellowbeard in 1983, I guess it led to the duo deciding to revise their approach (or perhaps it was the only way to get financing by that point, as I’m sure the studio money pond was drying up fast for them), namely this adaption of an Alexandre Dumas’ book, a high action costume drama, as their next (and sixth) effort… unfortunately, other than a few (only half forced) smiles here and there, it’s a rather dull and mediocre affair (even against, say, Still Smokin’ which at least crashed and burned much more spectacularly in its small way).
Chong doesn’t reveal much improvement as a filmmaker since his first gig, which was the second C&C joint Next Movie (which, while still enjoyable, was a noticeable comedown in the directing department from the adventurously stoned out heights reached with their wonderful film debut in the Lou Adler-directed Up in Smoke). He has little flair for the action set pieces, always hard to keep interesting in this type of broad comedy in that we know there aren’t any real stakes, and is merely functional in capturing even the humorous moments (to the point where, here and there, you can notice signs he didn’t always know to go in for close-ups to capture punch lines for comic timing, as the second generation quality reveals many of these were taken off the master shot in post).
Long gone (to be fair, way before this film) is any hint of the subversive socio-economic commentary (the struggle to get a job, the police constantly harassing them, stealing gas to fill their tank to get to work, time at the welfare office and at bail hearings) that served as a vital backdrop to their shenanigans in the first two (modern) efforts, replaced instead with the two mugging comedians prancing about, lazily relying on mostly broad culturally tone deaf accents and jokes (with a typical low hanging example being the annoyed modern day French waiter bringing over a ‘silver plate’ in response to the Cheech character butchering of the expression ‘s’il vous plaît’), along with their usual boys-will-be-boys sexist humor ( which I admittedly find endearing — likely due to age and my privileged station as a white male, I can’t say I find them particularly offensive – more just low-brow and easy – though they wouldn’t be getting away with it in today’s climate, that’s for sure).
Even worse, in an effort to tone down the film to a PG audience (and a more older kid-friendly tone), while there is still a plethora of their usual kindergarten-level fart jokes and scatological humor (involving wet horse dung being shat a few times directly into the face of the main aristocratic villain named Le Fuckaire – get it?), the more risqué jokes (you know… like, dick stuff), as well as the drug humor, are, in the words of the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, nicht mehr. In other words, the worst has happened and Cheech and Chong have gone clean.
Along with their go-to shtick since around the third film or so, in which they do some really silly (and entirely unconvincing) flaming gay impersonations (this time, with Cheech’s Luis Corsican playing fey to draw some naturally lascivious – is there any other kind? — homosexual aristocrats out of the bar so Chong’s Lucian Corsican can whack them over the head and steal their outfits), they decidedly up the homosexual fever in Corsican, including having the Fuckaire character a prancing homosexual who likes to dress up in scanty women’s clothes (with accompanying nipple clamps). In fact, with Fuckaire at one point capturing Luis and taking him to his bedroom – as Lucian suspiciously starts feeling a lot of pain in his anus (you see, they transfer each other’s pains and pleasures), along with the duo’s continued practice of stripping off their clothes and getting buck naked in each movie to show off what muscular bodies they have, I’m really starting to wonder about all this…
With such desperately over the top scenes as the two playing themselves as babies in high chairs, with each whacking the other and then wailing in childish agony as instead he feels the pain, all while stuffing gobs of baby food in their mouth and throwing it back and forth at each other, you have to hand it to them; not only do they seem to go for it with genuine gusto, they don’t reveal a single hint of the embarrassment they had to have felt at the disbelieving looks from the film crew all around them when they shot it. I guess a large enough payday can make any shame go away.
However. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here… despite everything, they remain two likeable, naturally amusing and unassuming guys (though I’m wishing they’d start assuming a bit more in these films). Cheech manages to bring his oblivious Mexicano shtick to the proceedings (absurdly, yet kinda amusingly, explained by the fact that his character has gotten lost for twenty years as a child and had somehow wandered from France to Mexico where he was raised) and there remains just enough charm to watching their antics to make it all, I guess kinda watchable, even if with material this below par (if just once, and only as part of an obsessive Cheech & Chong completest film series).
When you’re in this deep it’s important to find things to keep one interested, such as Cheech’s at-the-time wife Nikki Marin (though I think they divorced right after this one). I always get a little extra amperage when she shows up on the screen (not that she does much, other than acting as playing the mugging Cheech’s object of desire).