[28 January 2009]
At one point in Pineapple Express, a character cites the lack of hair under his arms as a clear reason why he does not fear danger. “It makes me more aerodynamic when I fight, dog”, he says. It’s exactly this kind of stoner logic that propels Rogen and Goldberg’s latest effort (their last being 2007’s preciously vulgar Superbad) up to, and very nearly over the high bar that Apatow Productions has set for comedy in the past few years.
You will either choose to resist the pot mindset, constantly be at odds with the movie and declare it dumb every few minutes, or you can give yourself over to the insane spirit and have a blast. And no, “give yourself over” is not code for getting high, but simply for accepting the absolutely goofy nature of the material itself.
After a cute but ultimately discardable black and white prologue on the legality of marijuana, this goofiness commences with the introduction of Seth Rogen’s slacker Dale Denton. He’s a process server (protest servant?) who smokes weed all day and visits his high school girlfriend, only to feel like a bigger schlub than he (and we) originally thought.
When he visits his dealer for more, *ahem*, products, it’s revealed that Denton is the “responsible” one of the film. His dealer Saul (a revelatory, awards worthy James Franco) is possibly the most laid back of humans that still have a pulse. While there, Saul, in a “please be my friend” sort of way, lets Dale in on the “dopest dope he’s ever smoked”: Pineapple Express. Apparently it’s so rare that smoking it makes one as shameful as if he had killed a unicorn.
While sharing this strain is a fine (if slightly creepy) gesture by Saul, the rare strand of herb turns out to be their undoing. Ted Jones (Gary Cole), conveniently both supplier to Saul’s supplier and Dale’s next victim of the “you’ve been served” train, comes into play. Dale witnesses a gruesome murder committed by Jones and his partner (Rosie Perez), is found out by both his hysterically sloppy getaway and tossed roach and, since the weed is so rare (and Ted being the only one doling it out), a hunt for Dale and Saul begins.
With this slight shift, the movie begins a slide from cutesy, predictable Apatow pot comedy into what ends up being a completely committed, completely schlocky action film with the funny bits generously sprinkled throughout. It’s surprising to the max.
The aforementioned pot logic is not just apparent in the character’s actions; any screenwriters that have Gary Cole and Rosie Perez fighting a drug war against “The Asians” and three potheads that are not only caught in the middle, but turn into stars of their own action movies by the end should really be randomly tested. But my God, if it doesn’t make for some of the most hilarious sequences of the past year.
The mashup of Cheech & Chong and Rambo is something that feels entirely fresh and works because David Gordon Green is a master of comedic flow, especially during action sequences. Who knew the man responsible for the lyrical George Washington and Snow Angels gets humor this well?
Unfortunately, once the film gets to said action about three quarters of the way in, things start to unravel a bit. The fun is still firmly intact, thankfully, but the camera lingers just a bit too long on the carnage, even when it’s not related to any of the characters we’ve come to know over the past 90 minutes. It’s as though the filmmakers wanted to be sure to fully utilize their key action moments, but what emerges instead feels long in the tooth. Fortunately, the magic is recaptured by an end scene so marvelous that it threatens to wipe your mind of absolutely everything you could have possibly disliked about the past two hours.
Sadly, when it comes to the extra features on this disc (and believe me, you’ll be craving more of Rogen and Goldberg’s dope long after the credits role), the Apatow crew has seriously dropped the ball. The requisite “making of” featurette is messy, unfocused and seriously limited. Even worse, it’s the only feature with any real substance to it. The rest of said features, like the gag reel and deleted features are, to borrow a phrase from Franco, “schnickelfritz”.
Thankfully, there is a massive saving grace and that’s the cast/crew commentary track. Stars Rogen and Franco appear on it, as well as director David Gordon Green and Rogen’s co-writer Evan Goldberg, and they make up a mighty entertaining backbone for the rest of the rotating cast. And the commentary strikes such a phenomenal balance between tear-inducing hilarity and interesting anecdotes that you’ll be tempted to watch it multiple times, just like the movie itself. It’s a good thing the track is so wonderful because otherwise, the extras would be utterly laughable… and not in the good way.
So the question for you is clear: Comedy or logic? Sense or dopey sense? Hit or miss? You could pick apart this film for choosing a plot line so clearly comprised of lunacy, or even for not choosing to truly dive into any social commentary like previous Apatow flicks (though the film’s quick forays into “bromosexuality” are sharp and welcome), but the question comes down to fun(ny). And Pineapple Express offers you a howling good time without the help of any magical herb whatsoever.