Pineapple Express

Movie Information

The Story: A stoner witnesses a murder and has to go on the run with his dope dealer when the killer comes after him. The Lowdown: There are at least three or four movies in one here, making for an intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying mix. It's worth seeing for its sheer strangeness.
Score:

Genre: Action Stoner Comedy-Drama
Director: David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls)
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny R. McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez
Rated: R

Probably the nicest thing I can say about Pineapple Express (the title being the name of a particularly potent strain of pot) is that I didn’t in the least mind sitting through it. In fact, I’ve watched several sections of the movie more than once—partly because I’m still trying to determine exactly what it is, or even what it wants to be. This is far and away the oddest movie to come from the Judd Apatow factory, and probably the one that least smacks of an assembly-line approach. Whether or not that’s a good thing is something else altogether.

It’s easy to lay the credit—or blame—for the film’s oddness at the feet of the overrated, but undeniably talented, director David Gordon Green and his ace cinematographer, Tim Orr. And there’s some reason for that. It’s nice to see Green step outside his usual indie-film mopey reflectiveness, while still bringing with him an undercurrent of the sadness that marks his other movies, as well as the wide-screen visual elegance that’s the trademark of his work with Orr. (Often the most striking images in Green’s films—the time-lapse shots in the now demolished Sayles Bleachery in All the Real Girls (2003), for example—appear to have more to do with Orr than Green.) The question arises as to whether a stoner comedy actually benefits from this elegance. Does the carefully lit beauty of a stream in the moonlight as the background for one scene enhance the film, or does it distract from the comedy in the foreground?

For that matter, some of the sadness that clings to the film may have as much to do with cowriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, whose screenplay for Superbad (2007) evidenced a similar tone. Both films deal very directly with a fear of loneliness and a fear of change. They also deal heavily in the romance of male bonding in a way that offers subtext aplenty.

The gay subtext here is impossible to miss, since the film’s overriding factor is the romance—there’s really no other word for it—between stoner Dale Denton (Rogen) and dealer Saul Silver (an unusually appealing James Franco). The scene where Saul tries (and succeeds) to get Dale to stay and smoke his latest invention (a cross-like joint lit in three places) plays exactly like someone desperate to get a date, and Franco plays the scene with a quality that suggests a giddy high-school girl on a first date. The appeal for Dale becomes more obvious when we find he has a high-school-age girlfriend (Amber Heard, Never Back Down), who, if anything, is too mature for him. The character arc from there even approximates the romantic-comedy structure, right down to the penultimate-reel breakup of Dale and Saul.

All of this is very interesting, and it affords the film a sense of weightiness, which is part of what makes it odd. But there’s also another dynamic at work that sets up a sense of cross-purposes that never gels. According to press releases, Rogen is very much pro-marijuana and producer Apatow is not. The pair reached an uneasy compromise on the film that results in a scene where Dale realizes, “We’re not much good when we’re high.” In the scene, Dale appears to be ready to swear off or at least modify his habit. Having arrived at that point, however, the film just as quickly forgets about it, so it hangs there like a sop to Apatow’s views and nothing more.

And yet none of this explains the film’s wildly shifting tones throughout. Depending on where you look, it’s a stoner comedy, an action comedy, an action thriller, a typical Apatovian man-boy concoction or a male-bonding romance. The problem is that, apart from the last, it’s not very good at any of these things. The action-comedy bits want to be Hot Fuzz (2007), or at least Shoot ‘Em Up (2007), but are neither as funny, nor as precise, nor as witty, nor as outrageous. The straight action-thriller parts, on the other hand, are simply flat, and often preposterous. (Are we really supposed to believe that a supersecret subterranean facility has a highly visible air vent sticking up in the middle of a field?) And the movie is premised and wrapped in a barely credible plot that has Dale witnessing a murder that sends him and Saul on the run from the marijuana mogul who committed the crime.

So why the three-and-a-half star rating? Simply because Pineapple Express is a fascinating mess, where the fascination outweighs the mess—at least by a narrow margin. Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

2 thoughts on “Pineapple Express

  1. Tonberry

    Ah, an action comedy about stoners. I don’t think I need to make a food reference here, but during this movie I was especially hungry. And I think that altered my view on this movie.

    No I wasn’t baked. Nor did I have high expectations, but this movie was not what I was expecting it to be, and I’ll probably set through it again to find out why I just wasn’t that impressed.

    “It’s almost a shame to smoke it. It’s like killing a unicorn…with, like, a bomb”

    I agree with the review, it’s spot on. Pineapple Express is a jack of trades, master of none. Though it has it’s sparks of genuine “lol” moments, I can’t really count this as being great. Making me the minority of my group of friends. I enjoyed it, but I felt quite a few spots were flat. I was mostly bothered by ideas that are introduced and treated as legit plot points, then canned. Like the girlfriend subplot, I mean you mentioned the gay subtext here, but that makes whole girlfriend bit felt like a complete waste of time, which it is. I also felt like it’s first half was more grounded in reality (I believe there is a part where the two main characters talk about that they could never kill some one) but the second half is too fantastical and rushed with everyone shooting off guns, it’s betrayed every point it made in the first. And in Apatow Factory tradition, we are plagued with a ending scene that goes on too long.

    Yet I did enjoy it, and this is very much nitpicking and over thinking this movie. Plain and simple, I was just let down. Here’s to Tropic Thunder next, in what seems to be a string comedies this month that I’ve been wanting to see.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’ll probably set through it again to find out why I just wasn’t that impressed.

    I haven’t sat through the whole thing a second time, but I have watched pieces of it. I can’t say that it altered my original reaction, except to reinforce the subtext (which made the film a little more interesting) and to further illustrate what a patchwork affair it is (which made the film a good bit more annoying).

    I was mostly bothered by ideas that are introduced and treated as legit plot points, then canned. Like the girlfriend subplot, I mean you mentioned the gay subtext here, but that makes whole girlfriend bit felt like a complete waste of time, which it is.

    The girlfriend subplot is kind of botched — the school sequence goes on too long and goes nowhere, and the resolution is ultimately too easy — but I’m not sure it isn’t part of the subtext, since high school kid Angie seems more a safe idea of a girlfriend than a real one. (There’s certainly little evidence of intimacy between the two.) Of course, it’s also just more of the whole Apatow man-boy thing with Dale stuck in high school mode.

    And in Apatow Factory tradition, we are plagued with a ending scene that goes on too long.

    And to very little real point. It just kind of shambles along and then stops on not much of anything. Even the very image it ends on is remarkably bland and unmemorable.

    Yet I did enjoy it, and this is very much nitpicking and over thinking this movie.

    I don’t know if it really is nitpicking, because it’s kind of hard to miss the fact that the movie’s all over the map — and not in a real genre-blending way, but in a sloppy one. As for overthinking it, well, in light of the cultural phenomenon level that the Apatow productions have either attained, or at least been accorded, they pretty much ask to be analyzed as something more than silly comedies.

    Here’s to Tropic Thunder next

    I think you’ll find that offers you more bang for your buck.

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