Sunday, September 29, 2019

Troubles in Tijuana

This is my entry in the Hispanic Heritage Blogathon hosted by Once Upon A Screen

Cheech and Chong, a comedy duo that made a name for itself with the drug counterculture society was a fixture in the late 70's and early 80's.  Somewhere along the way they had a split however and each went their own separate ways.

Of the two, Thomas Chong and Richard "Cheech" Marin, Cheech Marin probably made the bigger transition to the solo concept (130 credits to Chong's 62, according to IMDb).  Although Thomas Chong's output still mostly revolved around his stoner image, Cheech moved on to more sedate roles, including appearances Ghostbusters II (as a Port Authority agent witness the return of the Titanic) and a bartender in the Robert Rodriguez film Desperado, as well as several movies in which he was the headliner.

The last album that Cheech and Chong released as a duo was Get Out of My Room which featured a parody of the Bruce Springsteen song Born in the U.S.A., called Born in East L.A. Prescient of the imminent breakup, the parody only featured Cheech, Chong having refused to be involved in it.  (Cheech was also the only writer for the song, although Chong also got credit on both the album and the single.)

A music video for the song made the rotation on MTV, also made without Chong's participation.

A few years later Cheech was approached by Hollywood in the person of Frank Price.  Price told Cheech that the song would make a good movie.  Cheech wrote the screenplay, and got to be in the director's chair, as well as the starring role, Rudy Robles.

Several other Hispanic actors got screen time on the film.  Familiar comedian Paul Rodriguez played Rudy's cousin, Javier.  Tony Plana, sporting a pair of gold buck teeth, played a prison intern named Feo.  Kamala Lopez played Rudy's potential love interest, a waitress in a dive owned by Daniel Stern's character, Jimmy.

Born in East L.A. (1987):

Rudy Robles (Cheech Marin) is a regular schmo who is working in east L.A.   On his way to work his mother (Lupe Ontiveros) asks Rudy to go by the factory after work to pick up his cousin, Javier (Paul Rodriguez), as she and Rudy's sister and his nieces and nephews are going out of town for the week.

Rudy inadvertently leaves his wallet on the counter and goes off to work.  Upon arrival he can't find his cousin, whom he has never met inthe first place.  The factory is raided by INS while he is there, however, and since he has no identification, he is deported along with the rest of the illegals working at the factory.

Upon his arrival in Mexico, with only 25 cents in his pocket, and unable to convince the agent at the border that he is a legitimate American citizen. His name pops up as the same name as a multiple time illegal . The illegal in question is 57. ( Cheech was only about 41 at the time of the movie's production.)

Unable to convince the INS agent that he is not the 57 Robles, he has to go outside into mexico.  He tries to call home, forgetting that his family has gone out of town.  Angrily he starts pounding on the phone and is arrested.  In prison he is molested by two prisoners, but he is saved by Feo (Tony Plana), a prison trustee, sporting a pair of gold-plated buck teeth.  Feo is an opportunistic Christian (a parody of Jim Baaker and Jimmy Swaggart, both of whom where in the news at the time for committing un-Christian acts, despite their status as religious icons).  Upon getting out, Rudy insults Feo, making an enemy right away.

Wandering the streets he meets up with Jimmy (Daniel Stern), the owner of a cantina, who convinces him to work a few hours trying to convince tourists to enter the cantina.  Jimmy also agrees to help Rudy return to the US, albeit only through the services he provides to get illegals across the border, and only for a preposterously high fee.

Over the course of his time in Mexico, Rudy proves himself to be rather adept at certain jobs.  He hooks up with a street band and rakes in some cash in that way.  He tries to teach several Chinese illegals how to be Hispanic homies. And he has one rather hilarious scene in which he tries to be a tattoo artist.

During his stay he befriends the waitress at one of Jimmy's dives, Delores (Kamala Lopez).  Although Delores is at first rather standoffish to Rudy's come-ons, she gradually starts to like the little runt.

 Meanwhile, Rudy tries several attempts to enter his home country through subterfuge, including one funny scene where he stows away on a mobile home owned by two citizens returning from a "vacation".  But the citizens get stopped at the border and it turns out they are trying to return with some items that the U. S. government doesn't want to come in to the country.  (And I don't mean Rudy).

This is social satire, of course.  Depending on how you feel about the influx of illegals coming in to the country you may cheer for Rudy or you may be offended by the whole schtick.  But if you can get past the underlying message, its not all that bad a movie.  Although Cheech never delves into the stoner character that made him famous, all in all its worth a peek.  Especially if you like the song that inspired it.  (See video above.)

Time to roll these wheels home.  Drive safely folks.



  1. It sounds like they knew what they wanted to accomplish with satire and the concept. I must look into this movie.

    I know Cheech best as one of the finest celebrity Jeopardy! players ever, and from my son's occasional obsession with Disney's Oliver and Company. Aaargh!

    1. I miss watching Jeopardy. I used to watch every day when I was still in college. Now I only get to watch it if I happen to have the day off... Thanks for reading.

  2. I must take a look at that Jeopardy episode Paddy mentions!!

    Thanks for this submission, Quiggy. I like this movie and don't believe it should offend anyone, but that's me. People probably stay away from it for the wrong reasons. Anyway, enjoyed reading your take on it.



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