After taking on the sex comedy with The 40 Year Old Virgin, the sports comedy with Talladega Nights, and the teen comedy with Superbad, writer/director/producer Judd Apatow sets his sights on the buddy action comedy with Pineapple Express.
After a 1930’s set black and white prelude mocking the origins of the illegality of marijuana (which features an in form Bill Hader), the viewer is introduced to Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) a process server who smokes pot in order to numb his dour existence.
His only friend is his drug dealer Saul Silver (James Franco), whose ambition to become a civil engineer is constantly held back for his love of getting high. After Saul hooks up Dale with a rare breed of bud named “Pineapple Express”, Dale finds himself in the unfortunate position of witnessing the cities top drug lord (Gary Cole) and his dirty cop partner (Rosie Perez) killing a member of the competition.
Frantically leaving the scene Dale returns to Saul and in a fit of marijuana paranoia they decide it best to go on the run, making the film a Midnight Run meets Cheech and Chong with a hint of Dumb and Dumber (make that “High and Higher”) buddy comedy. On their tail are an eccentric pair of hitmen played well by Kevin Corrigan and the exceptionally funny Craig Robinson.
Cinema has had it fun with stoners before, with Brad Pitt’s hilarious turn in True Romance and Jeff Bridges’ The Dude in The Big Lewbowski two obvious examples. Unfortunately Pineapple Express fails to reach the comedic heights found in those two films due to its uneven direction, its unlikeable characters, and its contradictive preaching about drug use.
The majority of the films comedy relies on the fact that Dale and Saul are two brain dead morons, but that is also its weakness since neither character draws sympathy or empathy for their plight.
Dale’s idiocy driven holier-than-thou attitude towards his drug use combined with the fact that he is dating a high school girl (played by Amber Heard) does not warrant much compassion, and Saul’s insistence that his being a drug dealer is for a good cause (keeping his “Nanna” in a nursing home) fails to register considering his obvious talent and passion for architecture which surely could open some doors for him in the industry, if he were not stoned all the time. Plus, watching the two gleefully sell drugs to a group of 13 year olds does not help matters.
Regardless of the character of these characters, they are played well by Franco –in his most animated performance thus far – and Rogen, the big buffoon following the footsteps of the three John’s (Belushi, Candy, and Goodman) whilst playing the role of unlikely action hero (a warm up for his upcoming turn as The Green Hornet).
Unlike other action/comedy films, Pineapple Express does not underplay the “action” part of the equation, with several funny as hell “fight” scenes displaying a unique style of sloppy slapstick which drew more laughs than the films dialogue (a three-way fight between Franco, Rogen, and Danny McBride is a highlight).
However, director David Gordon Green – an unusual choice considering his drama heavy filmography – cannot get a handle on the films violence, opting for more instead of less. Thus the more violent the film becomes the less appealing it is to watch.
The film’s final sour note is the hypocrisy in its message to make pot legal. Rogen –both in the film and real life - cannot help but launch into Bill Hick’s style rants about the benefits of drug use, which would make sense if he were not acting like an idiot whilst high.
Usually Judd Apatow’s films speak of the need to grow up and take responsibility, and a key scene in Pineapple Express does touch on this issue. However this time that message is lost in a glorification of drugs and violence, hence Pineapple Express is a film aimed for the stoners of the world who would not know good taste if they smoked it, since according to Rogen “Pot makes s**t films seem better”. If that is the case all you potheads out there better order a new bong for the DVD release.