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Pineapple Express   C

Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride, Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson, Amber Heard.

Review by Rob Vaux

Before I jump all over Pineapple Express, it's worth noting that the crowd I saw it with really dug it... and considering that I saw it at a 10:00 a.m. screening on a Wednesday morning, I suspect that they largely consisted of the (ahem) chemically enhanced. It's perfectly obvious that Pineapple Express should only be experienced under the influence of a roach or three, and therein lay my doom, for I am not inclined to such indulgences. On the other hand, that didn't stop me from enjoying Harold and Kumar or even the odd Cheech and Chong movie back in the day. Stoner-based or not, good comedy shouldn't need any help from the baggie in your pocket.

Its central problem is distressingly common in producer Judd Apatow's work. Namely, it's too damn long. At close to two hours, it pushes even the most indulgent attention spans to the limit, especially when the material on display struggles to fill every second. Director David Gordon Green adopts the Saturday Night Live strategy of taking an amusing concept, letting his actors run with it until it collapses, and then extending the scene for another five minutes just to see if something funny happens. Nothing does. While it may take the more cognition-impaired that much time to catch up, the rest of us are left out to dry as scene after scene rambles on well past its expiration date.

Stars Seth Rogen and James Franco possess modest gifts for improvisation, though not nearly enough to hold up such a flabby frame. They play a pair of amiable goofs who like to get high. A lot. Rogen's Dale Denton works as a process server, handing court summons to surly people who would rather he just crawl under a rock and expire. Franco's Saul Silver is his dealer: the kind of guy who watches Krull on the couch all day while prepping dime bags for the semi-constant stream of customers at his door. Their awkward chemistry is one of the film's better notions -- that bizarre bit of drug culture protocol whereby you have to pretend that the guy selling you the shit is your buddy. Denton's not comfortable with the idea, but when he witnesses Silver's supplier Ted Jones (Gary Cole) murder a rival, the two find themselves thrown together in the midst of a very ugly drug war.

That's the second decent idea in Pineapple Express, played out with surprising subtlety if only because no one on screen ever directly mentions it. Jones and his competitors are pot dealers -- pot dealers -- and yet they go at each other with machine guns, ninja assassins, and ruthless homicidal mania of the sort normally employed by the Khmer Rouge. That lets the film poke fun at America's ongoing hysteria over marijuana use while giving the two leads a noisy atmosphere in which to run around and fall down a lot. The bulk of the humor arises from their near-constant state of befuddlement at the mayhem around them, along with a growing sense of camaraderie apparently intended to lend the movie some heart.

Unfortunately, the list of good ideas ends there, and while Pineapple Express never descends into desperation, that's only because it can't muster the appropriate levels of energy. Instead, it relies on Rogen's timing and Franco's wholehearted embrace of the concept to deliver a steady flow of only fitfully amusing material. To call it "character-based" is a stretch with figures this slight, but Pineapple Express depends on them almost exclusively. Well, them and an endless series of riffs on '80s action movies to liven up the pothead chatter. But they never rise above congenial smirks and the loooooooong periods of time spent moseying from one idea to the next begin to wear on the nerves.

Indeed, its overall aimlessness seems to be part of the point, a joke that -- like so many others on display -- probably felt funnier in concept than execution. Admittedly, it's hard to hate it for that. Its politically incorrect overtures become grating sometimes, and the occasional bursts of graphic violence aren't nearly as subversive as it thinks, but the overall tone is too cheerful to get into a lather over. That doesn't mean it's worth paying good money for, however, or that its exceedingly modest charms aren't better suited to a lazy Saturday on the couch (where you can wander off for some munchies whenever you get bored). Its target demographic is most comfortable there after all, and if Pineapple Express can't do more to engage the rest of us, that's probably where it belongs.

Review published 08.09.2008.

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