People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
  Review: Pineapple Express
(Warning: This review ends with a bad pun.)

Pineapple Express is a strange blend of genres, fusing the stoner buddy-comedy with the traditional action flick, specifically the kind of late-‘80s odd-couple action movie best exemplified by Lethal Weapon. The closest comparison I can think of is Midnight Run, which is also about two mismatched guys on the run, and similarly combines action and comedy. And while it’s still too early to make claims about how Pineapple Express is the best action-comedy since the bona fide classic that is Midnight Run (I tend to think that sort of thing doesn’t become clear until well after a movie’s release), it’s definitely the best comedy I’ve seen this summer, and maybe this year.

The plot is pretty simple: Seth Rogen plays Dale, a process server who spends his days smoking pot in his car when not changing into various disguises to hand out subpoenas. After buying a rare and powerful strain of weed called Pineapple Express from his dealer, Saul (James Franco, officially announcing himself as a great comedic actor), he ends up witnessing a murder when a dirty cop (the wonderful Gary Cole) kills a rival drug kingpin. Dale, blasted out of his mind, flees to Saul’s apartment, but not before leaving a half-smoked joint of the killer bud behind – enough evidence for Cole’s corrupt cop (who recognizes his own product; he sold it to Saul through a middleman) to send his thugs after the two stoners.

Pineapple Express is first and foremost a comedy, and a damn funny one at that. It was co-written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the writing team behind Superbad), but a great comedy script can only take you so far, as it’s ultimately up to the actors to make the material work. Luckily, Rogen and Franco are both hysterical, and their chemistry is great, especially as Dale finds himself bonding with his dealer (the film has a lot of fun with the inherent awkwardness of the drug dealer-client relationship), who he gradually realizes considers him more of a friend than a customer. I’ve liked Rogen ever since The 40-Year-Old Virgin (I haven’t seen Judd Apatow’s short-lived TV shows Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared, but I understand he’s great in those), and Knocked Up cemented him as a charismatic and funny actor. But it’s James Franco who really blew me away; while he’s great in his cameo as himself in Knocked Up, I had no idea he was this funny. I really hope he does more comedy work going forward, because he’s absolutely hilarious here. The other standout performance is from Danny McBride, a comic actor who’s been kicking ass with smaller roles in a ton of comedies lately (much to my dismay, even he wasn’t enough to save Drillbit Taylor). I don’t want to say too much about his character in Pineapple Express though, as it would spoil too much. All I will say is that the DVD release of his indie-comedy starring vehicle The Foot First Way (
trailer here) cannot come fast enough.

The other thing that makes Pineapple Express so great is that it’s an action-comedy made by people who seem to have genuine affection for action movies. While many of the action sequences are filled with funny stuff, it never feels like Pineapple Express is making fun of action flicks, at least not in a mean-spirited way. It’s very similar to Hot Fuzz in that regard, managing to walk that razor-thin line between spoofing action movies and actually working as an action movie. (Also, if you haven’t seen Hot Fuzz – an action-comedy from the guys behind the delightful Shaun of the Dead – you absolutely should.) It builds to the traditional violent climax at the villain’s hideout, only this time the heroes barely know how to use their guns, and look about as effective in a fistfight against crooked cops and gangsters as you’d expect a couple of out-of-shape potheads to be (Rogen says he tried to do as many of his own stunts as possible to highlight the awkwardness, and it works).

Credit for Pineapple Express’ awesomeness must also go to director David Gordon Green, a guy previously known for well-regarded indie dramas. Hiring a “real” filmmaker like Green for a movie like this really gives in an extra level of quality, whereas a hack like Steve Brill (I really, really did not like Drillbit Taylor) probably would have made the whole thing like look like a TV commercial or an episode of According to Jim.

Overall I had an absolute blast watching Pineapple Express. It’s style of humour may not be for everyone – the movie doesn’t try to redeem the characters’ rampant drug use, and it’s surprisingly violent – but I’d hesitate to call it a “stoner movie,” as I usually consider those to be movies you really should be high on something to enjoy (Richard Linklater’s trippy animated feature Waking Life is a pretty good example of that). It’s more like The Big Lebowski, in that it’s about stoners, and weed does figure prominently into the plot, but the viewer doesn’t necessarily need to be in an enhanced state of mind to appreciate it. I was as sober as a judge when I watched Pineapple Express, and I laughed my ass off. If you’re looking for some laughs and an all-around good time at the movies, (sigh) hop aboard the Express.


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