What is David Gordon Green (Snow Angels, Undertow) doing behind the camera for a stoner comedy from the Judd Apatow hit-machine? That's like Terence Malick directing the next Adam Sandler yuck-fest! Fittingly for a film that revolves around drugs, cinephiles will slip into an altered state when Green's name appears on the opening credits, but Pineapple Express ultimately goes about its business in fairly typical fashion. It's just a far prettier movie than you'd expect from the Apatow cash-cow, with Green (and his regular DoP Tim Orr) tinkering behind the scenes...
Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and Saul Silver (James Franco) -- actors reunited from Apatow-produced TV show Freaks & Geeks -- are best buddies smoking their lives away on marijuana. Dale finds marginal work as a process server delivering subpoenas; Saul is a homebody low-level drug-dealer weaned on television. One night, Dale witnesses local druglord Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and bad cop Carol Brazier (Rosie Perez) kill a man, and calls attention to himself as he drives off into the night -- dropping the titular spliff to the ground, that Ted traces to Saul's supplier Red (Danny McBride). Dale and Saul, fearing for their lives, decide to skip town -- and the inevitable buddy comedy problems are thrown their way, as Ted tries to chase the stoners down to silence them...
Pineapple Express isn't particularly funny, mainly because the script is only at its best as a two-hander between Saul and Dale (the best scene is an early conversation with the pair getting high on a sofa.) The other characters just get in the way, and the escalating jeopardy favours action set-pieces and spectacle over decent jokes. The intention is clearly to deliver a contemporary Cheech & Chong-style chase movie (already done by the Harold & Kumar flicks), but Pineapple Express also feels like an attempt to replicate Hot Fuzz -- thanks to its action-packed finale set inside a subterranean "grow house" that delights in excessive '80s-style violence and bloodshed. Sure, it all sounds like great fun, but the story is terribly sketchy and none of the characters particularly funny creations -- with the possible exception of Saul, and only then because Franco's a talented actor who turns a thin character into a faceted, sensitive, likeable, touching slacker hero. No surprise he received a Golden Globe nomination for this jewel in the rough.
Everyone else is either adequate (Rogen; trotting out his crude, friendly ogre shtick), misfiring (McBride's unfunny third-wheel sidekick) or just bland and forgettable (everyone else, but particularly Cole and Perez.) And is anyone else becoming irritated by how films made under the Apatow banner feature immature slobs with goddess girlfriends? At least the absurdity of Katherine Heigl/Seth Rogen was an intentional gag in Knocked Up, but then we had to swallow Jason Segel rebounding from Kristen Bell to Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and now Rogen writes himself a straight-faced romance with 18-year-old hottie Amber Heard? And, beyond a disastrous meet-the-parents situation with her disapproving father (Ed Begley, Jr), it fades to nothing and feels like it was only there to tick a box and eat fifteen minutes.
However, for all its faults and missed opportunities, there's a curious pleasure in seeing the writing style of Superbad filtered through the forlorn '70s vibe of David Gordon Green's lens. These curious bedfellows are diverting enough for Pineapple Express to hold your attention, and it looks great, but don't go in expecting the weed movie equivalent of The Blues Brothers. It never snowballs into the giddy highs you're longing for, and evaporates from memory like a breath of ganja.
Director: David Gordon Green Writers: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (story by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
Cast: Seth Rogan (Dale Denton), James Franco (Saul Silver), Danny R. McBride (Red), Kevin Corrigan (Budlofsky), Craig Robinson (Matheson), Gary Cole (Ted Jones), Rosie Perez (Officer Carol Brazier), Amber Heard (Angie Anderson), Ed Begley, Jr. (Robert Anderson), Nora Dunn (Shannon Anderson), Joe Lo Truglio (Mr. Edwardsen), Bill Hader (Private Miller), James Remar (General Bratt), Bobby Lee (Bobby) & Ken Jeong (Ken)