Thursday, March 11, 2010

Archive: 'Pineapple Express'

Movie Review
Pineapple Express (2008)

"Pineapple Express" may be the first stoner flick that you can still fully enjoy without having to be high. There's a smart level of humor here that an intoxicated person may otherwise miss. It's by no means nothing more than a druggie comedy, but it's an extremely well-made one, and one that'll make you laugh until your sides hurt. The reason behind the movie's success may come from it being directed by David Gordon Green, the least likely candidate who, before this, had directed small American indie movies such as "Snow Angels." He's used to dealing with the intricacies of human emotion. Here? Well, maybe a little.

Judd Apatow is officially a major force in Hollywood right now. His winning formula is still outrageous amounts of profanity and raunch while still holding a heart and being downright relatable. And with dopey but likable characters always on the forefront unleashing plenty of pop culture references, the line begins to blur between extreme stupidity and creative genius. Apatow has fueled his recent movies on barely having any plot at all and simply barreling down wherever his characters take him, and it has worked. This time, it's done quite literally as two seemingly harmless pot-smoking buddies accidentally get involved in a murderous crime. Apatow's recent comedies such as "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" have been close to the category of romantic comedy. But, is this really so much different? A male buddy movie essentially does the same thing just with two guys bonding instead.

Imagine a stoned-out version of "Superbad," and you've essentially got the first half of "Pineapple Express." A process server named Dale (Seth Rogen) spends his days delivering a couple summonses but mostly sitting in his car smoking joints and visiting his high school girlfriend, Angie (Amber Heard). He's best friends with his drug dealer, Saul (James Franco), who sits in his apartment all day selling and smoking his merchandise. Dale stops by one day to buy some weed, and Saul introduces him to something he just recently got from his connection. It's called Pineapple Express, and he says it's so divine that smoking a joint of it is equivalent to killing a unicorn. After leaving Saul's, Dale goes to deliver a summons on a man named Ted Jones (Gary Cole) who actually turns out to be Saul's supplier.

Dale sits outside in his car to smoke one more joint and gets scared when a police car pulls up behind him. That turns out to be the least of his problems when he then witnesses firsthand a murder by the drug lord Ted and a crooked female cop (Rosie Perez). Still high, Dale flips out and speeds off. Unfortunately for him, he leaves his roach behind and after just one sniff Ted Jones can easily track down the murder witness because there's only one dealer in the area selling Pineapple Express. This marks Dale, Saul, and Saul's middleman connection, Red (Danny R. McBride), all for dead, and it puts them all on the run from a group of rather incompetent hitmen.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote "Superbad," take Judd Apatow's stoner action farce vision and turn it into something that starts out ridiculous and only gets wilder from there. Dale and Saul find themselves in a forest, and then they lose their car and hitchhike their way to their buddy Red's house. Before arriving there, though, Dale shows up dirty, out-of-breath, and bleeding for a dinner with his girlfriend and her parents, which results in fleeing from her dad's rifle. Once at Red's, that's when the giddy over-the-top action starts to pick up, a first time for an Apatow feature. First comes a hilariously choreographed brawl in Red's house, followed later on by a police car chase that is the furthest thing from conventional as Saul drives at full-speed with his foot through a slushee-covered windshield.

It all ramps up to an all-out gang war between Ted's group of men and another group solely referred to as "the Asians." It's a hilarious shootout where the likes of Gary Cole and Rosie Perez are totally serious about the situation while Rogen and Franco are cruising along in a haze like it's just another inconvenience in their already hectic day. There's a clever nod to 70s and 80s action movies throughout this portion with plenty of subtle humor running beneath the apparent crude gags. Cinematographer Tim Orr makes this and the rest of the movie all look so good, too, by composing some surprisingly artful shots. That is, if you want to pay attention to that sort of thing, although, considering all else that goes on, it's not necessary.

The casting of James Franco, who's known mostly as the handsome guy from the "Spider-Man" series, is inspired as he proudly dons long, greasy hair and pajama pants as a reckless and carefree stoner pal. And Seth Rogen pulls off the action hero role perfectly, as unexpected as that is. Together they are comedic dynamite and give off the vibe of a believable bond. They're not gay, but they sometimes sure act like it, and the movie has fun poking at that possibility. McBride has fun, too, especially during a hysterical end scene in a diner where the three friends spend time reminiscing about the events of the day. There's a bit of Tarantino hiding within Pineapple Express from the "Pulp Fiction"-esque dialogue to the humorous spurts of violence and gore. There's something to it.

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