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The Apatow machine churns out another one. I don’t think Pineapple Express could fail even if it tried because the pairing of Seth Rogen and marijuana seems to be a match made in heaven. Billed as an action stoner comedy, Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg have crafted a tale around the titular strain of weed that allows for drug-induced confusion and paranoia due to the fact our two heroes are being hunted down by hitmen. Shortly after Dale Denton (Rogen) sees a murder by a drug dealer and cop, he is traced back to his personal drug outlet Saul (James Franco) and the two must run to save their lives. A buddy comedy more than anything, the chase allows for a lot of action sequences and stunts, but it really succeeds when we’re shown conversation and humor between our leads and the crazy bunch of characters they meet along the way.

While not as smart as The 40-Year Old Virgin, or funny as Superbad, Pineapple Express lives close to them in entertainment level. There is a huge sense of heightened reality throughout, (another character Red and his tolerance for pain among the more absurd moments), that somewhat distances the audience from relating to the events. There are instances that are clearly written haphazardly and for the purpose of bridging events together, no matter how implausible. Deaths are convenient, but funny as a result. Don’t be afraid to let loose and enjoy the comedy for what it is instead of looking for a smart story to string it all together.

More a series of crazy shenanigans then A to B narrative, many parts are unforgettable and perhaps more successful than the whole. Our introduction to Danny McBride’s Red is one that comes to mind. He, along with Rogen and Franco, just exudes a calm comfortability. The three are obviously improvising with perfect comedic timing as they meet, with the scene culminating into an all out brawl. They are all people that probably never partook in a fight before and it shows. Slamming people into furniture, throwing ashtrays at each other’s faces, and even sacrificing a bong to use as a weapon add to the laughs and utter craziness of the situation. When Rogen finally ends the battle he looks at Franco with genuine surprise on his face saying, “was that overboard? Too much?” It is a priceless moment with Red unconscious on the ground.

There is a lot more that works to mix in with some that doesn’t. The police car chase is great if just for the moment when Franco attempts to kick out the windshield. Rather than play it for action-sense, they allow humor to show as his foot becomes lodged in the glass. The sporadic driving is refreshing because he can’t see where he is going and is high on weed. Car chases are always so matter-of-fact going down streets, avoiding other automobiles. Here, though, the chaos expected this situation comes through. Where the realism works for this scene, its absence ruins the final shootout. The cost of life is thrown out the window towards the end so that it can all go out in a blaze of glory. Deaths are many and almost all are nicely orchestrated to a contrived perfection so as to work with what is going on. If a car explodes and flies into the air it must fall and kill someone; if a car rams through a wall randomly, it must run down a character that is about to kill someone else. The comedy is broad and obvious, unfortunately making this conclusion drag for me as I just wanted it to end to hear what everyone had to say, (which is a great payoff as the survivors enjoy a meal and rehash the entire movie to each other, filling in what the others missed—I almost would have rather had the conclusion be told in flashbacks as they relate it to one another, that would be comedy gold).

I give all involved a pass on the action shortcomings because no one has ever handled something like this before. Rogen, wanting a non-Michael Bay type to helm it, made an interesting choice in Indie-darling David Gordon Green. I think it was a successful pairing in that no one really had a set way to do things, much like the script was probably tweaked during production, I wouldn’t be surprised if the setpieces were also. While they may be novices on that front, they aren’t in terms of acting, or at least playing themselves for jokes. Green is known for getting brilliant dramatic performances out of his cast and here we have some very funny ones. Rogen is hilarious as we all know, but his castmates surprised me. McBride is just a natural onscreen as though he is oblivious to the cameras and just reacting as though this is life. His deadpan delivery can’t help but make you smile. As for James Franco, he really excels. Usually the brooding, conflicted villain or hero, he loosens up and is phenomenal. Facial expressions, misunderstanding of words, and overall actions exude pothead. He is having fun and is absolutely believable playing off Rogen as though they do this type of thing everyday. I hope he finds his way into more comedy in the future.

One can’t deny notice to a strong supporting cast as well. Rosie Perez is plucked from obscurity to play the murdering cop on Gary Cole’s drug entrepreneur’s payroll. She is a little firecracker and her fighting at the end brings some huge laughs. Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan are a fantastic hitman duo, the gay muscle partnered with the crazed brain that just wants to go home and have dinner with his wife. Many other great cameos are sprinkled throughout including Bill Hader as a pot smoking soldier in 1937, Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. as protective parents to Rogen’s high school aged girlfriend, and Joe Lo Truglio’s small moment as a messed up teacher, the kind trying to be relevant to the students while also attempting to demand respect as an adult. There is a lot to enjoy here and while the overall journey is lacking, the pieces making it up do not disappoint. Maybe drug dealers and their customer truly can put business aside and become friends.

Pineapple Express 8/10

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photography:
[1] Dale Denton (Seth Rogen, left) and Saul Silver (James Franco, right) are two lazy stoners running for their lives in Columbia Pictures’ action-comedy Pineapple Express.
[2] Hired killers Matheson (Craig Robinson, left) and Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan, right) flank Red (Danny McBride, center) in Columbia Pictures’ action-comedy Pineapple Express.
© 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

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