06 August 2008
Strange as it may seem, Pineapple Express is, in a sense, an experimental film—an action movie from a bunch of guys who look like they've never even seen a fight.
It comes to us from producer Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), whose name has become its own brand within the comedy world.Apatow shares a story credit on a screenplay written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, longtime friends who previously collaborated on the semi-autobiographical Superbad.
The director is David Gordon Green, known for small-scale indie dramas like George Washington, All the Real Girls and Snow Angels.
The stars are Rogen and James Franco, best known as Harry Osborn from the Spider-Man movies and the one person here who has significant experience with this type of production.
It all adds up to an action-comedy that falls a little short in both areas.
The movie works best when it allows Rogen and Franco to bounce off each other. They have a wonderful chemistry together that goes back to their days co-starring on Apatow's TV series Freaks and Geeks.
Rogen is Dale Denton, a stoner who works as a process server and has a girlfriend who is a senior in high school (Amber Heard). His dealer, Saul (Franco), provides him with "Pineapple Express," an impossibly strong, extraordinarily rare form of weed. Sounds good to Dale until he's about to serve a subpoena on local druglord Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and he happens to see Jones and a cop (Rosie Perez) murder a rival. In a panic, Dale tosses his joint and flees.
The problem: Jones knows Saul is the only person in the city who has the Pineapple Express.
Dale and Saul go on the run, first seeking help from Saul's supplier, Red (The Foot Fist Way's Danny McBride). Their predicament gets even hairier when Red proves to be of little help.
Kevin Corrigan (Superbad) and Craig Robinson (Knocked Up, Walk Hard—best known as warehouse chief Darryl on The Office), bit players in earlier Apatow productions, are featured in larger roles here, as two goons sent to kill Dale and Saul.
(There are also brief appearances by familiar faces Bill Hader of Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Joe Lo Truglio, the creepy guy who hit Jonah Hill with his car in Superbad.)
After fistfights and the obligatory car chase, it all culminates in a massive shootout at an isolated barn.
It's clear Green doesn't know his way around an action movie. At times, the action scenes employ slapstick; at others, they're meant to be serious. They lack energy, the edge-of-your-seat thrills they need to grab hold of the audience and take it along for the ride with Dale and Saul.
With the gunfire and explosions interrupting the comedic flow of Rogen and Franco, Green never finds a consistent rhythm. The movie feels disjointed even though it follows a straight line through only two days.
Like most Apatow films, Pineapple Express has a warm center. It's provided by the friendship of Dale and Saul, who have aspirations beyond what their slacker/stoner personas suggest. (Dale longs for a career in talk radio, while Saul dreams of becoming a civil engineer.) They eventually realize that what brought them together is what's holding them back. The movie gets a lot of laughs from the marijuana-inspired antics of its characters, but its message is anti-drug.
Rogen retreads familiar territory; Dale is only a slight variation of Knocked Up's Ben Stone. Franco, however, blazes a new trail for himself as an actor. His Saul is like a more affable version of Brad Pitt's unforgettable True Romance character—completely clueless, but he means well. It's a revelatory performance for Franco.
A great comedy could have been made about Dale and Saul. Pineapple Express is very funny in spots, but the action keeps sending it off the tracks.
(Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. 111 minutes.)