Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pineapple Express

The typical conundrum with the stoner-comedy genre is that the movies are almost always pro-drug ramblings with nothing more to say than 'drugs are awesome'. And there's nothing wrong with that if the movies prove to be funny regardless of your sobriety. But for too long, it's become clear that movies like this have nothing more to say. To a certain degree, Pineapple Express remedies this by at least trying a different approach. This is a stoner-comedy that plays fast and loose with the gangster genre in such a way that whenever the jokes don't work, the violence does.

Dale Denton (Seth Rogan) is a process server, driving around all day in various disguises handing out subpoenas left and right. One night, while arriving at his next assignment, he witnesses a murder, and suitably has a freakout in his car. He gives himself away immediately, and flees the scene in a flash. Thanks to the marijuana roach he left at the scene, the murderers link him right back to his drug dealer, a lovably aloof pothead named Saul Silver (James Franco). Together, Dale and Saul run for their lives with the mob hot on their heels.

Where the movie succeeds is in mining the behavior and thought processes of those under the influence (or at least, as far as I know). There are scenes in which we get to watch Dale and Saul try to figure out their next move, and the conversation is little more than incoherent musings on the way the world is maybe supposed to work. More often than not, these scenes are hilarious. It's only when Saul's connection, Red (Danny McBride) shows up that these scenes become, well, not quite as funny. I've seen McBride in three movies this year, and each time he's applied the same "I think I'm smarter and better than you when I'm clearly a huge fuckup" schtick. He does that here as well, and needless to say, it's getting a little tired. I think he's a funny guy, but it would do him a world of good to try out a new character.

What's impressive is that the action and violence in the film is executed just as well as the comedy. The action is cartoonish, yet remarkably well staged. Dozens of blood squibs go off, guns fire constantly, things explode, and cars speed off in all directions, but director David Gordon Green does a good job of keeping things coherent. This isn't the point of the movie, but just like Hot Fuzz last year, it helps if you stay true to the genre you're poking fun at.

In the end, Pineapple Express is a fun ride with two characters that, for better or for worse, we end up loving. I guess the movie's ultimate joke is that it's message is to stop being an idiot and just be a man, yet Dale decides to be a man by picking up a gun and taking out the bad guys. I love a movie that understands how simple it really is, and embraces it as fully as Pineapple Express. The movie doesn't try to be anything more than it is: a comedy about two guys who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Go to see Rogen and Franco, stay for Huey Lewis & the News' theme song. It encapsulates the movie better than any review. It's light, it's fun, and it invites you back for more.

3.5 (***1/2) stars out of 5.

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