Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pineapple Express

Earlier this year I saw a film named "Snow Angels," which I found hauntingly perfect in every way. At the moment its one of the best movies of the year, and will certainly remain on my list when 2009 rolls along. The film was directed by David Gordon Green, whose filmography contains a number of independent, low-budget dramas, so it would seem a bit of an odd choice for him to direct "Pineapple Express"- a big budget, action comedy in the vein of the R-rated comedies of the decade like "Superbad" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin." So with that in mind, this is a bit of a different genre for him, but at the same time its also something a little different for Seth Rogen, whose venturing into a major genre cross. But the final result ends up being something quite hysterical and simply a grand time out.

Rogen plays Dale Denton, a process server who in his spare time smokes massive amount of pot. Not really doing much with his life in terms of taking care of himself, Dale even dates a high school senior and is jealous of the jocks who seem to hit on her on a daily basis. His dealer Saul Silver (James Franco, once again playing a character I've never seen him do) gives him a bit of a weed called 'pineapple express,' the grandfather of marijuana. All is good and fine, but when Dale spots the local drug dealing godfather and a police officer shooting his Asian rival, Dale and Saul are suddenly being hunted by some bad people. Along the way they are aided by Saul's middle man Red (Danny McBride, who was given such a boost from these guys after they loved "The Foot Fist Way"), who sometimes works for them and sometimes against, depending on whose pointing the gun.

"Pineapple Express" is a very different vehicle for Rogen, Apatow, and the gang, just in terms of the genre crossing. We know that Seth Rogen writes some great comedy, but is it possible that there could be some great and funny action in here as well? Its proven quite early on with an extended car chase, and sealed even later during a huge set piece in a shipping barn. Rogen and Franco have great chemistry as well, giving us a very strong buddy element as well. Rogen does his thing well, but its Franco whose the real revelation here. After playing a rather stale straight man in the "Spider-Man" films, Saul is a role that Franco could really sink his teeth into, and its clear that he is having a fun time playing him. With his long hair, his 70's drug dealing clothes, and his yellow head band (which I learned was added to the wardrobe after James Franco cut his head during a stunt scene), its even funny to just look at him. Danny McBride is really just doing a rehash of his somewhat irritably likable character in 'The Foot Fist Way," and is good at providing a balance between the two so that he isn't intolerable. And the last performer to note is Craig Robinson, of "The Office" fame, who provides very strong laughs as one of the men after the two, certainly stealing that subplot of the film.

The film is absurd and ridiculous, but that really ends up being its charm. Built under the concept of "what if the lead characters in these action films where just high the entire time?" its quite obvious that at its core this is just a satire of action films. While not as smart as the similarly executed "Hot Fuzz," there are some very memorable characters, jokes, and action sequences here. I was actually quite surprised at the amount of violence here, and they cross the line several times (for example, when one of the characters shoots the foot off of a character already dead.) However the finale, however over the top and insane, is really constantly entertaining and enjoyable. There is a rather nice buddy relationship between the two main characters, but a very strong difference between this and "40-Year Old Virgin," "Superbad," or "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," is the lack of the unexpected depth and heart out of the characters. This isn't a negative thing, but this is the first time an Apatow produced comedy goes over the top and actually is successful doing it, unlike the awful "Drillbit Taylor" or "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." As expected, there is a fair share of improv here, mostly the final scene which has Saul, Dale, and Red sitting in a diner discussing their adventures. At nearly three minutes in length they do a quick recap of nearly the entire movie, done in a way that doesn't feel like a waste of time, but like comedic genius. 

Not all of the comedy works of course. The opening scene, set in the 1930's, shows experimentation with various forms of weed. The scene is shot in black and white and given a B-movie feel (the Columbia Pictures logo is even in black and white), but the scene really serves no other purpose than to give Bill Hader something to do in the film. It wasn't a very good opener, and didn't set the bar very high for the rest of the movie. Another scene that doesn't really seem to work is a very long fight scene in Red's apartment between the three leads, which eventually overstays its welcome and isn't a very good introduction to the Red character. It's small quips here and there that can't make "Pineapple Express" perfect, but in the stoner genre, many people will be massively content with the finished product.

And lastly, how is David Gordon Green's direction? Tackling such a different genre and jumping into the mainstream at the same time is a bold move, but Green segways very well. It's somewhat hard to believe that the director of his film could have once directed such a powerful and realistic drama like "George Washington," but it even has his same style and feel. This isn't nearly the masterpiece that "Snow Angels" was (however much I'm in the minority of that), but it proves that he does have range and can jump into this strong comedy and be successful. 

"Pineapple Express" opens August 6th everywhere.

***1/2 of ****


Blogger Jane said...

I can’t wait to see this movie! It looks hilarious and everyone is the movie is so funny. MIA’s “paper planes” song in the trailer is awesome.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rogen and Franco have great chemistry as well, giving us a very strong buddy element as well. Rogen does his thing well..."



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