The movie, it seemed, to generate nearly as much attention as the latest Batman installment during the summer Blockbuster season, was the 2008 stoner comedy, Pineapple Express. Although this week it’s changed: Tropic Thunder appropriately bumped Batman from the number one box office rankings. The writing team of course includes Judd Apatow (who also produces), Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg–with a script actually being shopped seven years ago–and this gave director David Gordon Green a chance to move from his typically solemn, low-budget indie films to one of the pinnacles of the mainstream summer movie fare: outrageous idiocy.
The Apatow-Rogen movies are a niche that, as Rogen once put, was meant to center around characters that were more like people like them: imperfect. And, in the case of Superbad, for example, it cheered for the socially awkward and turned the well-meaning loser into a desirable hero. Rogen’s declaration of purpose came as an appropriate reaction to the lumping of both his films and shows like Beverley Hills: 90210 into similar genres. “No part of me watched 90210 and thought, ‘Yeah! that’s what my life is like!’ It seemed like a different planet. I mean, I like shitty movies as much as the next guy, I’m not a snob, but things like that had no guys like us in it – that was the point.” Unfortunately, it has also created a world in which these heroes have very little variation. Seth Rogen’s characters — usually the leading character — is always Seth Rogen the same way Hugh Grant is always the same Hugh Grant and Adam Sandler is always the same Adam Sandler in pretty much every role they appear. And, when it wasn’t Rogen playing these main characters, guys like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were playing those limited-dimension characters: misunderstood nice guys. And it’s always guys at the forefront who become reluctantly intertwined in the outrageous epic, which would make it interesting should someone decide to take this further and give females the leading role. The misunderstood nice guy is one thing to root for, but the hapless girl (and not in the creepy Welcome to the Dollhouse sense of it, either)?
Rogen plays moppish, easy-going process server Dale Denton. And, abandoning his typical clean-cut and straight-laced characters of late, James Franco, plays his eternally stoned and happy-go-lucky dealer, Saul Silver, who offers to Dale, the most potent and extremely rare marijuana ever known: Pineapple Express. Says Saul of the wonder weed: “It’s like, if you took that Blue Oyster shit I gave you last week, and then that crazy Afghan Kush I had that one time.. and they had a baby. And then meanwhile, that crazy Northern Lights shit I had, and that Red Espresso Snowflake shit I had, made a baby. And by some crazy miracle, those two babies met, and fucked… this would be it!” While actually a meteorological term, the title phrase refers to an abandoned experiment by the US military in 1937 to study the effects of marijuana. Unhappy with the results at the underground lab out West, an irate commander picks up the phone to notify his superiors that marijuana has been ruled… “Illegal!”
While attempting to serve papers to the last person on his list that same evening, he witnesses an execution-style murder involving a powerful “drug lord” (the maliciousness of the term mitigated by the sense that Jones comes off more like an indifferent California billionaire type), a crooked cop (Rosie Perez), and possibly a rival drug dealer. He may been able to flee the scene without anyone ever knowing Dale was there. But, panicked, he tosses his weed out the window, throws the car in gear, and takes considerable time even pulling away from the curb, ramming the cars in front and behind him. While the executioner pair see the car abscond into the night before they could make out who was driving, it is the rare Pineapple Express that is the scent the hounds follow.
For some reason, freaked-out Dale can only think of going back to Saul and, in explaining what he saw, Saul makes the connection that not only is Dale in deep shit, but so is he. Not many degrees of separation from drug lord Ted Jones, Saul is the only one privileged by his own supplier to sell Pineapple Express. Already busying themselves with trying to rid the Asian competition (which includes a cameo by stand-up comedian, Bobby Lee, who should’ve been given a more substantial part), Ted Jones and the policewoman now have to deal with getting rid of Dale and Saul.
Thus, the chase begins…
Other stoner comedy teams who are inadvertently implicated in chases with either cops (Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke and Nice Dreams) or drug dealers (Half Baked) exist in a setting of cartoonish violence. Pineapple Express, on the other hand, attempts to fuse its situational comedy (with a zillion great one-liners) with true action elements (especially with a 3 minute fight scene between Dale, Saul and Red (Danny McBride) that is likely to get an MTV Video Awards “Best Fight” nomination), and this is evident from the promotional poster itself with the trio of stoners and dealers (the one in the neckbrace being the impenetrable Red, who is Saul’s supplier) looking dubious but well armed. Most assuredly: this is weedsploitation comedy with a body count.
With a movie that struggles to get off the ground in the beginning (reminding the sober audience just how painfully boring and juvenile a 5-minute conversation between sufficiently stoned friends can be), it manages to keep a satisfying pace throughout until the epic finale, when the drive to be the grand action film showdown trumps — with plenty of blood, guts and snot — to the point of being overdone, if not just short on enough material to accommodate the time alloted. The writing team also consumed itself with mockery of the Buddy genre, equipped with an abundance of pretty blunt gay jokes (Red to Saul and Dale: “I want to be inside you, homes!”) that culminates into a reflexive recapping by the ailing heroes in a diner.
Ignoring the flaws, Rogen, Goldberg, Apatow score an expected hit riddled with hilarious idiotic characters and crude comedy (even Ed Beagly, Jr. gets to let loose as the short-fused father of Dale’s teenage girlfriend), enough to get even the more skeptical viewer rolling in the floor especially for the sheer odd choice of dialog like Red admitting that he shaved his armpits in order to be more aerodynamic in a fight, or the fueding henchman (perhaps the best secondary character is Craig Robinson’s 80s throwback, Matheson) who mourns the lost of his partner’s ferociousness. He knows this… he’s “Seen’t it!” And as Rogen and Franco reunite, they portray characters very reminiscent (but much more happy-go-lucky) of the McKinley High School students Ken Miller and Daniel Desario — The Freaks — in Appatow’s (and other’s) 1990 television dramedy, Freaks & Geeks. If Rogen’s character were as pleasantly distracted as Saul (Dale has some annoying moments because he’s too level-headed about some things), they’d be a duo worth matching other purely outrageous weedsploitation comedies like Cheech & Chong and the guys from Half Baked. And in that event, maybe a duo worthy of episodic adventure.
Filed under: after the 90s, blowouts and shoot 'em ups, comedy, commentary, reviews | Tagged: David Gordon Green, Evan Goldberg, James Franco, Judd Apatow, Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen, stoner comedy, Weedsploitation | Leave a comment »