In a way, getting sent to jail for nine months for selling bongs and other paraphernalia online may be the best thing to happen to Tommy Chong's career since he partnered up with Richard "Cheech" Marin. In an instant, Chong went from peddling a tired brand of weed-scented stoner shtick in stand-up gigs around the country to a countercultural martyr and the living embodiment of the folly of the American government's short-sighted, counter-productive war on drugs. There is perhaps a great documentary to be made about Chong's strange evolution from stoner superstar to politically radicalized ex-convict, but Josh Gilbert's engaging but ultimately unsatisfying A/K/A Tommy Chong isn't it.
One of the many maddening details of the drug war is that while marijuana is illegal, the tools used for smoking it are not, with the exception of a few states where selling paraphernalia is illegal as well. Chong's family-run glassware company made the mistake of selling bongs and the like to entrapment-happy government operatives in just such a state and, bucking for a big, high-profile trophy, the government threw the book at Chong.
Chong's tussles with the DEA didn't transform him into Lenny Bruce overnight, but as illustrated by performance clips here, it did lend a welcome political edge to his material. Gilbert has potentially fascinating subjects in both Chong and the war on drugs, but his treatment of both remains stubbornly superficial. A scene in which one of Chong's sons concedes feeling enormous guilt over getting his parents involved in a business that led to his father's prison stint is fascinating, but Chong's relationship with his children isn't developed much beyond establishing Chong as a proud family man. (Daughter Rae Dawn Chong, meanwhile, is completely absent.) What could have been either a scathing critique of the drug war or an intimate portrait of a stoner facing mortality instead comes off as a fawning infomercial for its subject. Perhaps it was inevitable that a movie about the ultimate stoner would be undone by fuzzy execution and lack of ambition.