Starting in the late 70’s, comedy duo Cheech and Chong embarked on taking the success they’d had on stage and with comedy records to the big screen. In most of their films, they pretty much played variations on the same characters every time. Cheech was the wise cracking chicano and Chong the always pseudo-stoned ex-hippie. They’re brand of comedy always featured plenty of rock ‘n’ roll and drug references. So it was a big departure for the duo in 1984 when for the final film they would headline together they chose to do their own take on a 100-year-old story by Alexander Dumas…Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers.
The film actually starts with versions of the Cheech and Chong characters we already know. They are in France with their band. Their plan is to set up their van on the street and play so obnoxiously that people pay them to stop. Of course, they’re making some good money at this. After one successful gig, they are approached by a young woman (Rae Dawn Chong) who notices that each has “the mark,” which is never really explained. She then launches into the story of the Corsican brothers, but since we now get a proper British sounding narrator this makes absolutely no sense.
We see the brothers born, and apparently they are twin sons of separate fathers? Long story short, the two fathers are killed in a duel and the babies are raised by peasants. The two brothers learn early on that they are able to feel each others’ pain. They spend a few years separated from each other as kids, but as adults the two brothers, Louis (Cheech) and Lucien (Chong), are reunited. Lucien often talks about a revolution, though there doesn’t seem to actually be one. There is, however, the evil Fuckaire (Roy Dotrice) who has plans to take over the throne from the queen (Edie McClurg).
Shortly after being reunited, the brothers are captured and face the guillotine. However, when their swashbuckling antics please the crowd, Fuckaire allows them to live. He soon regrets this though as the brothers begin to woo the two princesses (Rikki Marin and Shelby Fiddis…aka Mrs. Cheech and Mrs. Chong), impersonate gay hairdressers, storm the castle and launch a revolution.
This film is a very odd choice for Cheech and Chong; completely unlike any of their other films. The drug humor is completely gone, with the possible exception of a scene where Chong is drunk (because Cheech has been drinking…Corsican brothers, remember). Emerging from the pot haze Chong usually resides in, he ends up playing a character that is supposed to be the dashing heroic type. Talk about unexpected! So I do give them some props for trying something different, but my praise of the film pretty much ends there. Bottom line is it’s just not funny.
Many sequences of the film are just sloppily done. Some seem to have not been scripted in first place. While I don’t doubt the duo’s improvisational skill, they seem to be a bit off their game. The comedic prospects of brothers who feel each other’s pain only goes so far. Gags in which one gets hit but the other one screams wear thin pretty quickly. Sadly, other comedy ideas are in short supply. I have no doubt that the pointless opening and closing sequences of the film, featuring modern Cheech and Chong in France, were tacked on to pad out the film to a still quite short 82 minutes.
I actually think the film could’ve worked on a certain level had Cheech and Chong stuck closer to their proven formula. Chong is actually the straight man for much of the film, which is a huge stretch. Cheech gets more of the comedic moments, but they are desperate attempts for cheap laughs. Worst offender is a scene in which Cheech gets his arm stuck in a horse’s rear end. The idea of putting the duo in a different time and place may have actually worked had they still played their classic stoner characters. You know, have two guys that are stuck in a 70’s drug haze, but happen to be in the 1800’s.
Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers ended up being the final headlining feature for the comedy team (though they did appear together in supporting roles in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours the next year). I admit, their other films aren’t exactly fine pieces of cinema, but they manage to provide some laughs. Unfortunately, this film struggles to even earn a chuckle.