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Pineapple Express

August 8, 2008  |  7:00am
Pineapple Express
Release Date: August 6
Director:
David Gordon Green
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cinematographer: Tim Orr
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez
Studio/Run Time: Columbia Pictures, 111 mins.

Producer Judd Apatow and his comedy factory are making their apologists work overtime to explain which of their films are worth a damn and which were thrown together by stunted man-boys who've figured out how to make a buck off of high-school nostalgia. For a time, it seemed that the involvement of Seth Rogen, either as a writer (Superbad) or actor (Knocked Up), separated the wheat from the chaff. But then Drillbit Taylor, a half-hearted mess thrown together for Owen Wilson, took a chunk out of that section of the rubric. It was co-written by Rogen, who now stars in and co-wrote the team's latest film, Pineapple Express, which complicates matters further. Unlike Drillbit, which didn't seem to know what it was aiming for, Pineapple seems to be exactly the kind of shallow, flimsy movie that Apatow and team set out to make. They aimed for a low target and hit it square in the nuts.

Written by Rogen and Superbad's Evan Goldberg, Pineapple Express presses forward into new areas not yet forged by these guys, but it also seems to stagnate in the areas where they showed the most promise. It's the story of a weed-smoking process server named Dale (Rogen) who witnesses a murder and runs to his deadbeat drug dealer Saul (Spider-Man's James Franco) for solace. The seeds of a buddy movie begin to sprout when the paranoid delusions of these two panicked stoners turn out to be true; the murderer really is trying to hunt them down and kill them for knowing about his crime. The movie then stirs a stoner comedy into a sleazy '70s action drama, with uneven results.

Apatow has tapped director David Gordon Green to bring some new blood into the usual game of wisecracking layabouts. He's better known as a maker of moody dramas than drug comedies, and for Pineapple he's brought along his cinematographer, Tim Orr, who's better known for lush widescreen compositions than cheap-looking widescreen compositions. Saul's apartment alone has a thousand funny knick-knacks—a "Footprints in the Sand" poster, an antique chair—and Orr packs them into the edges of the frame like bubble wrap. If these characters weren't using cell phones, they might belong to an episode of Mannix.

It may be a wacky pot movie, but Green demonstrates a control over Pineapple Express that's lacking from the team's lesser movies. He knows how to cut the fight scenes, when to cue the cheesy music, and where to plug in the genre conventions. The movie is crisp, but strangely it’s also wide open and aggressively stupid, as if everyone came to the set with half-baked ideas and Green's reliable response was "Let's try it."


Wouldn't it be funny if a fistfight with a woman cop were choreographed like she's a guy, complete with the requisite kick to the groin? Wouldn't it be funny if a villain crawling out of a manhole was rammed with a cheap, imported vehicle and the driver acted like it's a total dis to get killed by a Daewoo? And wouldn't it be funny if he punctuated the insult by pointlessly blowing the dead guy's toes off with a shotgun?


Sometimes, yes, those things are worth a chuckle. Other times, not so much. It's a brand of comedy straight out of The Blues Brothers, where the humor, if it's to be found at all, comes from the attitudes of small-scale characters roaming inside large-scale chaos.


The crass humor of Apatow and Rogen's over-sexed, under-ambitious characters is easiest to tolerate when it has a genuine heart under the frizz and acne. Michael Cera in Superbad and Rogen himself in Knocked Up play losers by association. They're only slightly smarter than the deadwood around them, but when the chips are down they're tender enough to shape up and treat women with respect, thus distinguishing these modern comedies from, say, Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds. Deftly handled sweetness has been a hallmark of Apatow's best movies, but when it pops up in Pineapple Express— in the male bonding, and in Dale's relationship with his very young girlfriend—it's rote, insincere, and sidelined so quickly it almost seems like a tease or a joke.


In place of real people we have three caricatures: Dale, Saul and a wild-card named Red, played by Danny McBride, who's doing a more extreme version of the blowhard he played in The Foot-Fist Way. At the end, seated in a diner, our three heroes reflect on the movie's best fight scenes. They sound like screenwriters laughing at their own jokes, but it's these moments when the distance between the filmmakers and the audience disappears. If Pineapple Express works at all, it's likely to be for people willing to slip into the diner booth with these fellows and laugh along with them. The rest of us will often feel like we're merely watching a stoned friend have the time of his life.


Watch the trailer for Pineapple Express:

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