Pineapple Express (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Pineapple Express Poster

It has been said that the only way to truly enjoy a stoner comedy is to smoke a joint before watching it. Considering the quality of some of the movies wedded to this genre, I'm tempted to believe that. Thankfully, Pineapple Express is an exception. The humor in this movie is smart enough that even a moderate level of intoxication or inebriation is not necessary to enjoy it. Sure, some of the jokes fall flat and others never get off the ground, but there are enough genuinely funny moments to be found in the slightly-too-long 111 minutes to make it a pleasant way to pass an afternoon or evening. The primary audience for this film might be those who partake from time to time, but it's not the only audience.

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a process server. His idea of a good day is to deliver a few summons, some a few joints, and spend a few minutes with his high school girlfriend, Angie (Amber Heard). Dale isn't what one calls a social guy - his best friend is his drug dealer, Saul (James Franco). One unfortunate evening, Dale witnesses a murder while on his way to deliver a summons. The killers, a drug lord (Gary Cole) and a crooked female cop (Rosie Perez), see a need to eliminate Dale. After obtaining a roach he leaves behind at the scene, tracking him becomes simple. His marijuana of choice is called "Pineapple Express" and there's only one dealer in the area: Saul. Pretty soon, Dale and Saul are on the run from a group of not-too-bright hitmen.

Comic timing is everything in a movie like this, and actors Seth Rogen and James Franco exhibit it. Perhaps the surprise is how good director David Gordon Green is with the material. Green, whose impeccable indie credentials include George Washington and All the Real Girls, would not seem to be the best choice for this stoner/male bonding comedy, but he "gets" it and delivers. A lot of the best humor comes from double-takes, one-liners, and other less flamboyant gestures, and Green and his actors sail through these moments with seeming effortlessness. Of course, there's some over-the-top, coarse stuff as well, and that's handled with equal adeptness. Part of the reason Pineapple Express works is due to the screenplay (by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with an assist from Judd Apatow), but one can still imagine an inept cast and crew making a mess out of it.

Pineapple Express is the movie that Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay could have been had it focused a little less on the scatological least-common-denominator humor. This movie shows that stoner comedies don't have to be laid back and lazy, even though some of their characters might be. Even though this movie comes out of Judd Apatow's shop, there's no nudity, upsetting Apatow's goal to put a penis in every flick. Lack of overt sex and nudity nothwithstanding, the movie earns its R-rating with plenty of raunchy language, blatant innuendo, and violence. For those who don't think gore can be funny, consider the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent splatters brains all over the inside of a car. That kind of comedy has a place here.

Many of the Apatow crew's previous efforts have been romantic comedies. Pineapple Express is not, at least not in the strictest sense. Instead, it's a buddy movie, but it has fun italicizing the homoerotic undertones that characterize many such films. When you consider it, a lot of buddy films aren't fundamentally that different from romantic comedies. The relationships are often developed in the same fashion, only with male bonding replacing sexual chemistry. Pineapple Express recognizes this and has some fun with the concept. Dale and Saul may not be gay, but they sure act like it upon occasion.

Pineapple Express takes some chances and gets some laughs through unconventional casting choices. Seth Rogen has proven his comic chops recently, but James Franco, lately having spent a lot of his screen time in Spider-Man movies, is not what one immediately thinks of as a higher functioning Jay (as in "Jay and Silent Bob"). Then there's Rosie Perez as a corrupt cop, with a memorable and off-the-wall cameo for Ed Begley Jr. Pineapple Express is a little too long and the big action set piece toward the end is too bloated for an otherwise tightly focused motion picture. These aren't big complaints, however. In the end, the film is solid entertainment in the Midnight Run vein.

Pineapple Express (United States, 2008)

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny R. McBride, Kevin Corrigan, Amber Heard
Screenplay: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Cinematography: Tim Orr
Music: Graeme Revell
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2008-07-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Drugs, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1