A film review by Craig J. Koban

Rank: #22

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS jjj
½ 

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 Dunn

Directed by David Gordon Green / Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Seth Rogen and James Franco star in Columbia Pictures' Pineapple Express

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. 

Okay…you’re thinking, “Isn’t this supposed to be a stoner comedy?”  Just hear me out. 

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. 

PINEAPPLE 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, komakazie 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 FICTION

For the 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.  

The 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 Franco; more 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!” 

Dale 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). 

Now, 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’ comedic engine. 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. 

More 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.

The 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 TRISTAN 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.  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.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is certainly not a flawless action-stoner-comedy; at nearly two hours, it's seriously too long for its own good, not to mention that it curiously fails to use any of that time to harness the comic talents of Gary Cole, whose turn as the main baddie here is unfairly underwritten (the script can't also decide if he should be scary-as-hell or delightfully hammy).  The concluding, and climatic, action sequence also perhaps extends itself a bit too far (although a rough and seriously raw fist fight between Franco and Perez is a highlight).  The film was directed by David Gordon Green, whose work in the past ranged from dramatically evocative indie fare like GEORGE WASHINGTON and UNDERTOW…so…not necessarily everyone’s logical choice for this kind of mainstream druggie gigglefest.  Yet, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is such an unabashed, never look back, genre bending work that you come out of it appreciating its audacity and spunk.    It’s a film that both celebrates the genres its emulating while trying to plot out a fresh course all on its own.  It’s a decidedly odd conglomeration, but there’s no denying that seeing the film with all of its capricious, demented, and off-the charts mixture of foul-mouthed guffaws and cheeky gore is a natural high.  It also represents a return to form for producer Judd Apatow (after the career hiccup of producing the comic dead zone that was STEP BROTHERS) and for Rogen (whose last script, DRILLBIT TAYLOR, was flaccid and lethargic in the humor department).   Thankfully, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is so uproarious that it will certainly leave you craving for the comedic munchies, begging for more.

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