A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, R, 112 mins.
2008, R, 112 mins.
Dale Denton: Seth Rogen / Saul Silver: James Franco / Ted
Jones: Gary Cole / Angie Anderson: Amber Heard / Red: Danny
R. McBride / Pvt. Miller: Bill Hader / Gen. Bratt: James Remar
/ Carol: Rosie Perez / Robert: Ed Begley Jr. / Shannon: Nora
The opening sequence of
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS sets the rest of the film's weird, oftentimes cheerfully
discordant, tone. It’s
shot in lush black and white and shows a top secret underground facility that
is run by what seems like the US army and a band of scientists.
thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a stoner comedy?” Just hear me
We proceed to a large and vast chamber that seems sealed off from everyone
else. In it is a
private (Bill Hader) that is higher than a proverbial kite: he’s been
smoking reefer for hours. A
government stooge and a doctor begin to ask the private a series of
questions to pinpoint his mental state.
Of course, being seriously doped up, the young private starts to
hurl insults at the general. As
a result, the general decides that marijuana should be quickly deemed
“illegal” by the US and that the private should be “disposed” of.
While the general is on the phone with his superiors, you can hear a gun
shot in the distance.
EXPRESS is a very weird movie; simply labeling it as a “stoner comedy”
does not really suffice. Where
it lacks in cohesion and consistency it certainly makes up for in sheer
ambition. Yes, this is a
stoner comedy with a lot of scatological shenanigans and overall doobie-infused
hijinks, but PINEAPPLE EXPRESS kind of goes beyond the dime-a-dozen
elements of its genre and displays a real gusto and showmanship by being a
balls-to-the-wall, outlandishly and graphically violent buddy/action film
and dark comedy. The film
benefits from an odd couple pair of hemp-addicts that must battle their way
through massive gunplay, bizarre car chases, crocked cops, vicious drugs
lords, kamikaze Japanese hitmen, and last, but not least, an elementary
school liaison officer. PINEAPPLE
EXPRESS feels like a film where the dazed and confused slackjaws from FAST TIMES
AND RIDGEMONT HIGH and CHEECH AND CHONG were dropped off in the narrative of PULP
most part – and despite its crazy amalgam of sub-genres – PINEAPPLE EXPRESS works famously. Yes,
not all of it works all the time, but enough of it works, and sincere
props should be given out for the film’s unbridled and enthusiastic
comic ingenuity. On top of
all of its coarse and vulgar wordplay, surprising and oftentimes shocking graphic carnage, and overall
subversiveness, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
is really concerned with male bonding, about three losers that share a common bond
though their love of marijuana and their mutual, life threatening
altercations with some very, very bad people.
One critic called this film the ultimate “bromance”, a
descriptor that I love: PINEAPPLE EXPRESS may be a wild, raucous drug induced
comedy that certainly deserves its R rating, but there is an undercurrent
of sweetness to it: The male
main characters in the film learn to love one another – in purely,
hetero-lifemate ways – through their terribly violent ordeals.
film’s script (another comic goldmine from SUPERBAD’s writing dynamo
of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) is an audacious hoot.
25-year old Dale Denton (Rogen, perfectly channeling a Generation
X-er slackerdom with a wry, sarcastic comic edge) is a highly inventive
process server. His life
outside of his job is simple and modest:
He likes to get high…a lot…and
enjoys visiting his girlfriend (Amber Heard) at school…high school that
is. Beyond his barely legal
main squeeze, Dale has very few friends, outside of his drug dealer, the
perpetually stoned Saul (2008’s comic casting coup de grâce, James
on him later). Saul
is not the brightest flame in the lantern, but he seems nice, affable, and
hard to dislike, maybe because of his easy-going demeanor…or more
because of his access to super tasty weed.
One day he shows Dale the mother of all chronic payloads, a rare weed
called “pineapple express”, which he hilariously states smells like
“God’s vagina.” Dale
loves it instantly. “I just
want this stuff to live in my nose,” he joyously retorts after inhaling
the aroma from the pot. Dale,
unfortunately, is in a rush that day and wants to leave without trying it,
but Saul pleads with him that not trying it would be a horrendous crime,
akin to “killing a unicorn!”
relents, loves what he smokes, buys some off of his dealer buddy, and leaves. He
then proceeds to deliver a summons when disaster strikes:
While smokin’ up in his parked car, Dale accidentally witnesses a
foul murder. The killers are a ruthless drug lord named Ted Jones (Gary
Cole) and a corrupt female cop (Rosie Perez, refreshingly playing a real
nut job). Dale does manage to
get away, but he makes one cardinal blunder: he leaves his “roach” at
the scene and when Ted and his cop partner in crime finds it, they are able
to easily deduce that it’s pineapple express, which, in turn, easily
leads them to Saul, the only dealer of it in town.
Realizing that he has left evidence linking the evil goons back to
Saul, Dale does what any friend would do and picks him up and they frantically
go on the run, desperately trying to elude Ted’s henchmen, the corrupt
cop, and – gasp! – Dale’s girlfriend’s parents (played by Nora
Dunn and a wonderfully madcap Ed Bagley Jr., in a very funny cameo).
I did mention earlier that this film was a “bromance” between three
losers, and the third inebriated reject introduced into the mix is Red,
played in the film’s other side-splittingly hilarious performance by
Danny McBride. He plays a pot
associate of Saul’s that has a difficult time early on with loyalty to
the duo, especially when the drug dealer’s heavies show up and fiercely
beat on him to coax information out of him about Saul and Dale. McBride’s deadpanned hysterics are loony at times,
especially during one exchange when he opens his arms and tells Dale and
Saul, “See this? No hair
under here. It makes me more
aerodynamic for fighting!” Early
on, when Dale and Saul feel that Red has ratted them out, a brutal and
slap-sticky brawl in Red’s apartment ensues, which is both high
on bloody carnage and silly goofiness.
These three characters becomes the fuel to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS’
Perhaps Red's other noteworthy - and funny - characteristic is his near
invulnerability to gun fire. He's like the dismembered knight from
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, only in a neck brace and riddled with
Perhaps Red's other noteworthy - and funny - characteristic is his near invulnerability to gun fire. He's like the dismembered knight from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, only in a neck brace and riddled with bullets.
laughs are garnered from the film’s intense, in-your-face, and frequently
blood-spattered action scenes.
A wicked and wacky car chase sequence late in the film
culminates in the film’s greatest sight gag when Saul attempts to kick
out the slurpee-covered front windshield because, according to the frantic
Dale in the back seat, “That’s what one does,” to create a clear
path of sight in a car during said chase.
Actually, the sequence is funny in two ways: first, it’s inanely
funny to see Saul try to kick out the window, especially when he gets his leg stuck in
the serrated hole and (secondly), his comment afterwards (when he gets his
leg out) is inspired: “Hey, I can see through my leg hole!”
The film is also fiercely democratic with the throwaway lines with
secondary characters; even one of Ted’s henchmen has a considerable number of
droll one-liners, especially after he sees the after effects of getting
hit in the face with pot filled with piping hot coffee: “I look like the
Hamburglur,” he blurts out.
best part of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is the fluent camaraderie and chemistry
between Rogen and Franco, and their witty shlub banter makes the film
memorable. Rogen, as proven in THE
40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and more so in KNOCKED
UP and SUPERBAD, has emerged as
a genuine comic find of the last few years; his pudgy appearance and lack
of a chiseled, leading man facade gives him a more amiable, everyman
flavor. If anything, the real comic find in the film is Franco
himself, who has recently allowed himself to be in a series of drab and
flavorless dramatic roles (like in the forgettable ANNAPOLIS
and his emotionally inert work in the failed romantic borefest that was
AND ISOLDE). Franco may not
reach the transcending levels of scary malevolence and tortuously crazed
menace that was Heath Ledger’s Joker from this summer’s THE DARK
KNIGHT, but his brilliantly madcap and perpetually looped-up turn as drug
dealer Saul - similar to Ledger's work - just may be the career-defining role for him.
playing handsome, GQ-looking cover boys in earlier films, it’s a real
inspired trip to see Franco – a proven actor – slip so thoroughly
into the most inspired pot smoking goofball since Sean Penn’s Alex
Spicoli. With his shaggy mane of greasy hair, baggy pants, and glazed looking
façade, it’s kind of endearing to see an actor like Franco reclaim his career
playing such an amoral, but lovable and well meaning, societal
degenerate. It's one of the year's funniest performances.
Often playing handsome, GQ-looking cover boys in earlier films, it’s a real inspired trip to see Franco – a proven actor – slip so thoroughly into the most inspired pot smoking goofball since Sean Penn’s Alex Spicoli. With his shaggy mane of greasy hair, baggy pants, and glazed looking façade, it’s kind of endearing to see an actor like Franco reclaim his career playing such an amoral, but lovable and well meaning, societal degenerate. It's one of the year's funniest performances.