What is your tolerance level for stupid? Is it higher if you are higher? If your answer to the second question is yes, than this might be a film for you. If stupidity and slap stick are not for you, there is not enough pot in the world to make you want to endure “Cheech and Chongs The Corsican Brothers”.
Having cornered the market on stoner humor films in the late seventies and early eighties, Cheech and Chong stretch out a bit with an historical parody that will never be confused with a Mel Brooks film like “The History of the World Part 1”. There are some funny lines and clever pieces in the movie, but it does not sustain itself and too often drops in crude toilet humor to get to the next scene.
The story of the Corsican Brothers concerns conjoined twins who feel each others emotions after being separated. It has been a frequent film subject and was the basis for an earlier parody with Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder called “Start the Revolution Without Me.” All of the versions that are know of are set in the French revolutionary period so there is usually swashbuckling and peasants and passionate speeches galore. Cheech and Chong have a lot of that, but they also have jokes about Mexicans, homosexuals, and animal sex.
The movie opens in present day (1984 Paris) as two Americans have come up with a scam to play loud, bad rock music in public and take bribes to stop. A street hustler sees their wad of cash and offers them a tarot card reading which reveals their previous incarnations as the famous Corsican Brothers from two hundred years earlier. This whole segment has nothing to do with the movie and only exists to give them a chance to indulge in the Rock and Roll stylings that they used on several of their albums and some of the earlier films. There were several funny lines in the sequence and Cheech does a nice job channeling the King both on stage and in the cafe later on. If they had set the whole movie in contemporary times, it would have been more original and the stupidity might be more acceptable. Once we travel back in time, the story gets started and it follows a winding but traditional path.
The best scene in the movie takes place in the first ten minutes. When the two children are born to an aristocrat and one of them is a dead ringer for the doctor, the Lord knows he has been cuckold. Challenging the doctor to a duel results in the funniest parody of a Kubrick film you are likely to see. The music follows the same cues used in “Barry Lyndon” and the costumes mimic that scene as well. Bad timing and bad aim explain the rest. Even though the final shot of the scene is predictable, this whole segment was well timed comically and edited to get the maximum audience reaction. If the rest of the film had been as carefully planned and shot, this could have been a parody classic. Unfortunately, after this mostly wordless section, the characters start talking.
Why some people think the gross eating habits of others are funny is beyond me. It is a long running gag in many movies to show characters with their mouths full and their hands filled with slimy food. The only movie I ever saw where this worked for me was “Animal House” and there is a reason, John Belushi uses his impish charm to sell the gross out. The recent post on “Bachelor Party” neglected to warn you that there are a couple of scenes that attempt to get the same kind of laugh. Cheech and Chong use the idea a couple of times and it looks childish and flops in provoking any humorous response. The idea of babies and nine year olds with beards and mustaches is a little funny because this is supposed to be a stupid movie. It does show you how low they are willing to go to get you to laugh at something. The head knocking and hot foot dancing that comes up several times is an exploitation of the Corsican Brothers legend, but it is all played for laughs. If getting stuck in the butt with a small knife is funny, than stabbing your own testicles to get at the other guy must be hysterical and it should be done as broadly as possible, right? (No is the answer you are looking for).
The brothers cross wits, and I use that term lightly, with an evil aristocrat the Evil Fuckaire. It is pronounced in the movie Foo Key Air, but it is just a chance to throw in the F-Bomb and not get caught by the MPAA. Fuckaire is played by British character actor Roy Dotrice. This movie will be close to the bottom of the list in terms of quality at the end of the project, but this same year, Dotrice had a nice role in the best picture on the list and one of my top five or ten favorite films. Here he is reduced to dressing like an eighteenth century version of Gene Simmons, and acting like an eighteenth century Liberace. He gives it the old college try but the caricature is so shallow that there is not much that he can do beyond adhering to a swishing stereotype. A very funny lady who is also misused in the film is Edie McClurg. She was a favorite of John Hughes for a reason, but you will not see any of that reason in this film. She is the Queen with the two daughters that the brothers are wooing, and the closest she gets to creating a laugh is having her hair come out in clumps. When looking for the movie on-line, I found a trailer that had twqo clips of Carol Kane as Marie Antionette in this film, but her part was cut out of the movie completely and she is not listed in any of the credits. She has more personalty in the ten seconds of this trailer than any of the ladies had in the complete movie.
I’d only seen the film one time, the summer of 1984. I’m pretty sure I saw it with my buddy Dan Hasegawa at the Mann Hastings Ranch Theaters which no loner exist. The building is still there, it was at one time a Trader Joes but I think that closed as well. There were three theaters, a big house and two smaller screens. The movie has some funny lines as I wrote. One guy is referred to as a tri-sexual, you know, he’ll try anything. Cheech has a habit of throwing away funny lines, but sometimes in the hubbub of a movie they get lost or the timing was off. Trying to riff on film is just a lot harder than most comics seem to understand. So even when there is good material it can fall flat. The movie was directed by Tommy as were most of the pot heavy movies the team made before this. His sensibility was right for a movie like “Up in Smoke” or”Nice Dreams”, but a parody like this needed someone more polished at the helm.
This is a film where slap stick action, wigs and costumes and stereotypes are supposed to be funny. All of that can’t substitute for a stronger story and tighter direction. In the six years leading up to this, the duo had made six other movies together. This was the last one and Tommy did not appear in another film for six years after this. A combination of personal differences and declining box office killed this team off. While I would watch this movie again before I every tried “Rhinestone” or “Bachelor Party”, it is not something you need to see unless you are a Cheech and Chong completest.