Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers

April 14, 2011

A few minutes into the latest cinematic offering from Cheech and Chong, the boys burn down their house and hide in the woods. They’re playing 10-year-old brothers, and they have to figure a way out of the situation.

“Man, we gotta think of a story,” says one to the other.

With this line, I believe Cheech and Chong provide an index to their creative process. Their films give every indication of having been made up on the spot, with improvisation the order of the day. And their films have been so successful that they don’t have studio producers insisting on completed screenplays or other such nonsense. These two have quite a bit of clout.

However, their movies—based on the drug-oriented comedy routines and strung together with little bits of plot—have been tapering off at the box office with each successive outing, and Cheech and Chong clearly needed to move on to something other than pot jokes.

So they decided to dust off an old chestnut and have a go at it. The Corsican Brothers, the tale of twins separated at birth and then reunited in time for the French Revolution, is the vehicle. There are no drug jokes. And it’s dismal.

When these brothers separate, Cheech winds up in Mexico—don’t ask me how—which allows him to continue his customary south-of-the-border routine. Chong becomes a serious-minded leader of the Revolution who drags Cheech into the fray when Cheech returns home to France.

The gags run along the lines of explosive potatoes being referred to as “bombs de terre.” But that’s one of the good ones. For the most part, there aren’t any gags at all. It’s just a string of situations getting mugged to death.

There’s a tired running joke about how close the brothers are. It seems that when one is hit, the other feels pain—but not his own pain. So when they duel, they start jabbing themselves in the stomach to hurt the other guy.

Even more painful is an attempted parody of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon that doesn’t really come off—and one the duo’s main audience is not likely to understand anyway.

It’s a family production, as Shelby Fiddis and Rikki Marin play the beautiful princesses who are the object of the brothers’ attention. Fiddis and Marin just happen to be the Mrs. Chong and Mrs. Cheech. But I’m sure they’re fine actresses in their own right.

It was all shot in France—including the pointless modern-day prologue with Rae Dawn Chong, Tommy Chong’s daughter. The movie certainly looks okay, but there’s such a dearth of comic inspiration, the players are just pratfalling figures in a handsome landscape.

The Corsican Brothers was spoofed much more effectively in the 1969 Start the Revolution Without Me, in which Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder played the twins. Cheech and Chong’s version would be bad enough as it is, but it suffers even more by comparison to that enjoyably silly farce.

First published in the Herald, July 31, 1984

This was a dismal day, a Friday afternoon spent at the Aurora Village theater. Man, if you’re going to a Cheech and Chong movie you want at least some kind of transgression, a measure of stick-it-to-the-man glee, or a whiff of the counter-culture. This looked like lazy people taking a very boring vacation. Tommy Chong never did seem to have much of a director’s touch (he helmed this one), but when Cheech Marin began directing his own movies, he actually did have a flair for it.