Director : David Gordon Green
Screenplay : Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (story by Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Seth Rogen (Dale Denton), James Franco (Saul Silver), Danny R. McBride (Red), Kevin Corrigan (Budlofsky), Craig Robinson (Matheson), Gary Cole (Ted Jones), Rosie Perez (Carol), Ed Begley Jr. (Robert), Nora Dunn (Shannon), Amber Heard (Angie Anderson), Joe Lo Truglio (Mr. Edwards), Arthur Napiontek (Clark), Cleo King (Police Liaison Officer), Bill Hader (Private Miller)
As a general rule, watching stoners has limited entertainment value, which is why movies featuring stoners are usually enjoyed only by viewers who are also stoned. Stoners can make great supporting characters and provide comic relief--I’m thinking specifically of Brad Pitt’s hilarious honeybear-bonging slacker in True Romance (1993) and, of course, Sean Penn’s definitive pothead Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)--but as main characters, their blissed-out antics, vacant stares, and slurred non-sequiturs, even when done with great comic timing, quickly tax the patience of most sober viewers.
Pineapple Express, which features two main characters who love weed more than anything else in life and spend the majority of the movie smoking it, tweaks the formula by embroiling its characters in an escalating drug war featuring crooked cops and bickering assassins, which wouldn’t be a half-bad idea if the plot had any heft whatsoever. Instead, writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, longtime friends who gave us Superbad last summer, have apparently decided to ape the worst of mid-1980s-era action-buddy-comedies, suggesting that, like Superbad, they wrote the script when they were 13. That was forgivable with Superbad because the movie was about adolescence, but Pineapple Express begs for something slightly more sophisticated (or surreal) to offset its juvenile obsession with getting high.
Rogen stars as Dale Denton, another of his long line of nerd-slacker personas (some director should get creative and cast him against type as an upright pillar of society). This time he is a 25-year-old process server with a girlfriend who’s still in high school and no signs of upward mobility whatsoever. He’s quite good at his job, gleefully delivering summons and court orders while dressed in a variety of disguises, but his true passion is smoking pot, which for several months he has been procuring from Saul Silver (James Franco), a dealer who has clearly smoked a little too much of his inventory. One night, while waiting to deliver a summons, Dale witnesses a drug lord named Ted Jones (Gary Cole) shoot another man in the head. Dale panics, runs back to Saul’s apartment, and because both are high and extremely paranoid, they fear that Ted and his minions will track them down, so they take off together. The joke, of course, is that their paranoia is right on, and Ted, whose accomplice is a corrupt cop named Carol (Rosie Perez), is on to them and sends two of his men (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson) to track them down and kill them.
That’s the basic set-up, and for stretches of the film it is enough to sustain the comedic antics of these two incompetent potheads trying to save their own skin. Yet, the movie still feels too long and stretched too thin, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since it was produced by Judd Apatow, whose comedies always feel just a bit bloated. For every scene that works beautifully, such as Rogen’s uproariously panicked response to witnessing the murder, there are scenes that try way too hard and fall flat, such as an utterly pointless black-and-white prologue featuring secret military testing of the effects of marijuana and Rogen’s disastrous dinner with his girlfriend’s patience-taxed parents (Ed Begley, Jr., and Nora Dunn).
Rogen and Franco’s buddy comedy certainly works, suggesting with both a grin and a straight face that stoners have feelings, too. Rogen plays the straight man to Franco’s bumbling, yet oddly sweet antics, which would get stale quickly if the two actors weren’t able to infuse the comedy with a growing sense of actual friendship that is complimented by Danny McBride as Red, a low-level drug dealer who is their friend, then their enemy, then their friend again. Like Superbad, for all its raunchy gags and sexist dialogue, Pineapple Express has a fundamental appreciation of the tender side of male camaraderie and isn’t afraid to show it.
Because it is both a comedy and an action movie, Pineapple Express veers wildly at times, shifting from long stretches of aimless stoner comedy to frantic car chases and violent fights that culminate in an all-out war featuring machine-gun-toting ninjas and a secret underground marijuana forest. Weird as that is, what is weirdest of all is that the film was helmed by art-film wunderkind David Gordon Green, best known for lyrical cinematic poetry like All the Real Girls (2003) and Undertow (2004). Pineapple Express is by far his most conventional film to date, but he still manages to infuse it with moments of sublime beauty and unexpected visual excess that come tantalizingly close to transcending what is essentially a one-joke riff on Reagan-era Hollywood junk.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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