(No, I'm not stoned. It's just that Pineapple Express opens today (8/6), but my review was published over a week ago. This reprint is brought to you by Cinematical's Recycling Division. We care about wasted bandwidth.)
I won't get into the precise reasons, but my friends always seem to think I'm going to LOVE the next big "pot comedy." They chuckle and assume such silly things despite the fact that the only real pothead comedies that I truly enjoy are Up in Smoke, Next Movie, and a large portion of the Harold & Kumar misadventures. Frankly I'm of the opinion that most pot comedies feel like they were written by someone very stoned, and let's just say that writers don't always do their best work when they're extra-baked. (They might THINK their stuff is hilarious, but usually it's not. That's just the weed talking.) Oh, you'll definitely find a few cannabis-caked giggles in Half-Baked, Grandma's Boy, and Smiley Face -- just not enough to sustain a whole movie, if it's me you're asking.
So it is with much pleasure, enthusiasm, and recently-applied Visine that I offer you Pineapple Express, which just may be the Casablanca of Pot Comedies. Or perhaps it's more like When Ultra-High Harry Met Super-Stoned Sally, but either way Pineapple Express showcases some of the funniest "weed culture" insights since the arrival of Richard Linklater's fantastic Dazed & Confused -- which I wouldn't call a full-bore "pot comedy," but it sure isn't shy about passing those joints around. Best of all, while Pineapple Express will absolutely appeal to both the casual and committed pot-smokers, it's also just a very funny buddy comedy / action flick parody that comes bearing the very unique stamp of director David Gordon Green. Yes, you read that right. The man who gave us indies like Undertow, All the Real Girls and George Washington has directed an guns & weed comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. And if you think the guy's dry, low-key, and slyly sober style has been squashed by the Hollywood Movie Machine, then you're in for a big treat with this flick. Pineapple Express is certainly "accessible" in true multiplex fashion, but it also has several memorable touches of strange wit, unexpected character, and just plain old random weirdness -- you can tell you're in the hands of a filmmaker who actually wants to deliver a big, odd concoction of a flick.
The plot is enjoyably simple: Two potheads find themselves on the run from a crooked cop and a violent drug lord after one of the stoners accidentally witnesses a murder. (The title refers to the world's most powerful marijuana, so intoxicating that apparently it smells like "god's vagina.") So while early word on Pineapple Express has called it a partial homage to the "buddy action" comedies of the 1980s, what I saw in this flick comes from a decidedly late-'70s format. Imagine if Richard Rush or Don Siegel had directed the first Cheech & Chong movie, and that's what Pineapple Express feels like to me. And that feels good.
We all know Seth Rogen's a very funny guy by this point (if the "Rogen backlash" has started already, don't send me a membership application any time soon) and he does a very fine job of creating a central nebbish who simply wants to enjoy his weed and get through life without bothering anyone. As his partner in perpetual paranoia, the normally stoic James Franco is allowed to let his hair down here and have an absolute ball with his role. (If you've never seen Freaks & Geeks, then you'll probably be shocked to learn that Franco has such comedy chops. I, however, was very entertained but not at all surprised.) Best of all, Rogen and Franco strike a fantastic chemistry together, with the former a neurotic and self-centered (but ultimately sweet) nobody and the latter a soft-spoken and frequently clueless (but occasionally insightful) weed-sponge.
As is always the case when Rogen and producer Judd Apatow are on the job, the bong is over-packed with colorful supporting characters -- and I won't spoil any of the fun, but (once again) we have a movie that all but screams "This Danny McBride dude is FUNNY!" (This guy redefines the phrase "scene-stealer," particularly as part of one of the funniest movie brawls I've ever witnessed.) As the snarling bad guys, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez are clearly having a lot of fun riffing off each other. Even more arcane antics come from the likes of Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Ken Jeong, Amber Heard ... plus we get some of the funniest stuff from Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. in quite some time. I chuckle just thinking about it. Enthusiastic movie geeks who buy a ticket for Pineapple Express hoping for some choice "quotables" will NOT go away disappointed.
Pineapple Express is an unapologetically raunchy, appreciably scrappy, and exceedingly violent little comedy, and it's a "matinee for reative grown-ups" that will almost certainly entertain its intended audience. Green and company keep the material moving at a very brisk clip, some of the more conventional comedy stops are interrupted by unexpected sequences of admirable ... weirdness, and the whole thing looks like it was as much fun to shoot as it was to watch. And even if you wouldn't know weed from green wool, Pineapple Express works as a fast-paced buddy comedy with lots of laughs and a few hilariously unpleasant surprises. It's not exactly a "dark" comedy, but Pineapple Express sure isn't scared of making mirth out of morbidity. Let's say that once the bullets start flying, Franco becomes Bugs Bunny and Rogen becomes Daffy Duck. And you know what those guys do to their enemies.
In other words, I liked this flick a lot, not just because it gave me some "funny pot schtick" from a bunch of entertaining actors -- but because it's a comedy that takes chances, hearkens back to a weirder generation, and doles out as many surprises as it does big laughs. I'd call it a near-perfect mix between arthouse cleverness and mainstream amusement. Plus, man, it's worth seeing just for Franco's frequently fried facial expressions. This guy should never do "drama" again.