When I was a kid I had a good friend who lived next door. His dad had a collection of records and among them were several of Cheech and Chong’s comedy albums. We would listen to them regularly. “Dave’s not here man,” that stuff cracked us up. Of course, we didn’t get most of the drug references which was probably a good thing. In 1987, Cheech Marin wrote, directed and starred in a film inspired by the duo’s hit song “Born in East L.A.” Tommy Chong did not appear in the film. But in 1990, Mr. Chong had his own chance to write, direct and star in a film of his own, and he brought most of his family along for the ride. It’s 1990’s Far Out Man.
As the film opens, a young lady (Rae Dawn Chong…Tommy’s daughter essentially playing herself) is bringing a psychiatrist (Martin Mull) to visit the secluded home of her aging hippie father, who we simply know as “Far Out Man” (Chong). The psychiatrist is there to help get Far Out Man out of the funk he’s been in ever since his ex-wife left with their infant son. With Mr. Man under hypnosis, we learn some of the back story of his relationship with the woman he calls Tree (Shelby Chong…Tommy’s real wife). She used to be a singer in her husband’s band, but with the mic off since she sang so bad.
Nowadays, Tree is shacked up with actor C. Thomas Howell (playing himself….he also happened to be Chong’s son-in-law, married to his Soul Man co-star Rae Dawn Chong at the time). Her now teenaged son Kyle (Paris Chong…Tommy’s real son) is failing at his new age school since he listens to classical music and actually reads books. Trying to straighten him out, she informs him that she is forcing him to go to a concert for a band called The Fartz.
After his hypnosis session, Far Out Man determines that he needs to have purpose in his life and decides to go back to being a roadie. Of course, he ends up at the Fartz concert, thinking he’s a part of the crew. Unfortunately, he turns up after the gig is done. No biggie, though, he’s told to pack up the gear and drive it to Fresno, which he does. Unknown to him, young Kyle is stowed away inside his truck. When he finds out, he decides to let the kid tag along as he parties and stumbles his way up and down California.
Far Out Man is a movie that is not without potential. The basic idea of an aging hippie on a road trip with the teenage son he never knew is a thin thread, but it’s no worse than the premise of Cheech and Chong classics like Up In Smoke. Unfortunately, very little time is spent on the relationship between Tommy and his son. Not to mention the fact that it takes quite awhile to actually get to that point. The opening with Martin Mull drags on way too long and even, at one point, trips into a bizarre animated sequence.
The entire side story following Chong’s wife Shelby and C. Thomas Howell is also completely unnecessary. Howell also plays his part so broad that he’s practically begging for a laugh. Only the final scene of the movie, featuring an exchange between Howell and Judd Nelson in a cameo role manages to work for the former Soul Man.
I would imagine some Cheech and Chong fans will find some funny moments in Far Out Man, but for most viewers the laughs are few and far between. Cheech does manage to have a cameo in one sequence, which just reinforces what the major problem with this film is. What Chong really needs here is a skilled performer for his comedy to play off of. I’m not saying it has to be Cheech, but there needs to be someone to balance Chong’s style. As it is, Far Out Man ends up being a pretty weak effort.