When I pursue different DVDs as subjects for reviews, quite a few varying motives come into play. I can’t watch everything that becomes available, so I have to be fairly picky, and the balance between my interests and the good of the site enter the equation.
Many DVDs are “no brainers”, since we’d look like schmucks if we didn’t review hot new titles like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Cast Away. However, catalog releases are a stickier issue, and that’s where my decisions become more personal. There are a lot of smaller films that hit DVD, and I need some kind of rationale to choose among them.
Sometimes my influences are more obscure than others. For Jaws 2, I wanted to reinspect a childhood favorite, and in a way, 1981’s Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams fell into the vaguely nostalgic category as well. I’d never been a huge fan of the doper humor espoused by C&C, but I’d seen a couple of their flicks theatrically and seemed to enjoy them. Nice Dreams matched this criterion, but that’s not why I decided to give it a look.
Instead, I remembered one character from the film, and I really wanted to see him again. That would be “Howie Hamburger Dude”, played by none other than Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens. Since I always loved Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, I was even more curious to re-experience some of Reuben’s earlier work.
He didn’t disappoint me. Howie - who earned the nickname “Hamburger Dude” due to his many odd utterances of the word “hamburger” - greatly enlivens an otherwise fairly silly and pedestrian flick. Nice Dreams offers perhaps the most formless and plotless movie ever made. Granted, the flick maintains a vague theme. C&C play dope peddlers who are tailed by the police. The police want to nab them. They don’t. Many comic events occur along the way.
Many of the supporting characters come and go quickly, but Nice Dreams maintains a minor main cast, most of whom appear as police officers. Stacy Keach plays the “Sarge”. He seems to lead the operation, but this appears to be solely because he wants his charges - gung-ho Detective Drooler (Peter Jason) and silent Detective Noodles (Tim Rossovich) - to bring him the pot so he can smoke it. Perhaps the film’s lamest running gag revolves around the potency of the weed. It’s so strong that it turns smokers into lizards, and as the movie progresses, we slowly watch Keach change into a new form. It’s not funny, and it seems totally pointless.
Of course, if all movies needed to have a point, most wouldn’t get made, so I can’t complain too much. Not much else about Nice Dreams makes much sense either, but at times it could generate some moderately entertaining material. As I already noted, I loved the bits with Howie, especially when he made some negative comments about Bruce Springsteen. Personally, I love Bruce, and my girlfriend’s a bigger fanatic than I am; this made Howie’s coked-up utterances that much funnier to us.
Another winning supporting turn came from Suzanne Kent as Sidney the agent. She’s one of the most shrill and annoying personalities to grace the screen, and that made her oddly entertaining. Kent really went for broke with her portrayal, but it works in the end.
What else is there to say about Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams? It’s a formless mess of comedic bits that are linked together by a largely pointless storyline. Much of the movie misses the mark, but some parts of it seemed fairly funny and entertaining. Cheech and Chong themselves have a few good gags along the way, and even at its worst, the movie remained painless. It’s not a comedy classic, but I love Howie Hamburger Dude too much to think ill of the flick.
Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen picture was reviewed for this article. While much of the movie looked pretty good, the image showed a variety of concerns that made it appear fairly average as a whole.
Sharpness consistently appeared strong. The movie presented a crisp and detailed image that lacked many signs of softness or fuzziness. Some interiors looked a bit muddy and drab, but for the most part, the movie remained accurate and well-defined. I saw no signs of moiré effects or jagged edges.
Nice Dreams featured a fairly naturalistic palette, and the DVD replicated these tones nicely. While I never felt that the colors were especially bright or vivid, they always remained clear and distinct. It stuck with hues that made sense in real-life terms, and the colors looked quite solid. Black levels generally seemed accurate, with dark tones that appeared acceptably deep and rich. Shadow detail looked similarly clear and lacked any excessive opacity. I thought neither of those aspects was particularly stunning, but nor did I find them to betray any specific concerns.
Much more significant were print flaws. Some of the usual culprits reared their ugly heads throughout Nice Dreams. I saw intermittent examples of spots, blotches, grit, small hairs and speckles. However, the worst offender was grain. As was the case with another recent Columbia-TriStar film - 1979’s The Muppet Movie - Nice Dreams provided copious amounts of grain throughout the flick. Actually, ND never quite approached Muppet levels of grain, but the small particles still cropped up fairly frequently. Many scenes seemed totally clean, but others would then be crawling with grain. Without the grain and the other flaws, this would have been a very solid image, but as it stands, I didn’t feel comfortable with a grade higher than “C+”, and even that may be a little elevated.
Somewhat better was the monaural soundtrack of Nice Dreams. Yes, a one-channel mix seemed old-fashioned ever for 1981, but I thought this one was surprisingly robust for its age. That was mainly due to the quality of the music. ND provided some rich and lively tunes at times, and they displayed nice depth. Bass response seemed quite tight and warm throughout the film, and low-end was much better than I’d expect of a 20-year-old mono mix. For the music, highs could have been more crisp and distinct, but they seemed acceptable.
The rest of the track was a bit of a mixed bag. Speech largely appeared clear and acceptably natural, but some lines showed definite edginess; although most of the dialogue had no problems, too much of it seemed somewhat brittle and rough. Effects were a minor component during this comedy, but they came across as relatively clean and accurate, and I discerned no significant concerns with them. Ultimately, Nice Dreams provided a fairly hearty monaural soundtrack that worked fairly well for its material.
Less satisfying were the DVD’s sparse extras. First we find Talent Files for Cheech, Chong, and Sandra Bernhard. The inclusion of the latter seems odd since she appears in an exceedingly minor role; had I not known she was in the film, I wouldn’t have noticed her. In any case, the “Talent Files” provide painfully brief views of the various careers and aren’t worth much attention.
In addition, we get some Bonus Trailers. Here’s a hint: when you see the phrase “Bonus Trailers” on a Columbia-Tristar DVD, that means you probably won’t also discover a preview for the feature attraction itself. That held true for Nice Dreams; its trailer doesn’t appear, but we do witness clips for Homegrown and So I Married An Axe Murderer. It’s a weak collection that adds little value to the package.
Perhaps it’s too much to expect Howie Hamburger Dude and supplements on the same disc. As it stands, I kind of want to endorse Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams but it’s tough to do. The film itself is a meandering conglomeration of comedic bits linked together with little rhyme or reason; it defines the phrase “hit or miss”, and most of the hits aren’t hard ones. Nonetheless, it has a few good moments that make it endearing to me. The DVD offers generally good but flawed picture plus decent sound and virtually no extras. With a list price of less than $20, Nice Dreams may merit a look for other Pee-wee fans like myself, but it definitely won’t appeal to a wide audience.