Stoner comedy catches fire, snuffs out
by Jason Blair
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS: Directed by David Gordon Green. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Cinematography, Tim Orr. Music, Graeme Revell. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez. Columbia Pictures, 2008. R. 111 minutes.
|Saul (James Franco) introduces Dale (Seth Rogen) to Pineapple Express
Northern Lights. Hawaiian Snow. Silver Haze. What sound like meteorological phenomena are in fact prize-winning strains of marijuana, which tend to acquire names according to two traditions: Things we find in nature, like skunks and vanilla beans and blueberries, and the places from which potent cultivars have emerged, such as Crimea Blue or Tasman Hush. One of the pleasures of the stoner comedy Pineapple Express is how convincingly it appropriates sine qua non status for the strain mentioned in the title. Pineapple is so precious that gentle Saul (James Franco) equates smoking it with “killing a unicorn.”
Saul is the reason to see Pineapple Express, even if Dale (Seth Rogen) is the film’s central figure. Both alpha dog and wayward child, Franco’s Saul has a sensitive side that’s so forlorn yet so caring that at times Saul appears to be falling in love with client Dale. It’s unnerving and therefore riveting, so completely unexpected is Saul, whose hobby, other than selling dope, turns out to be civil engineering. It’s a stunning performance that in any other film would be generating serious buzz; as it is, it’s his buzz that will be remembered as the Jeff Spicoli for the iPod generation.
Pineapple Express gets cracking when Dale, while smoking some of Saul’s weed, witnesses a murder while parked in his car. Frightened, he flees, leaving some Express behind in the street, which in the logic of Pineapple Express is like leaving a map to Saul’s house. Saul and Dale spend the balance of the film as stoned fugitives, in the process evading a pair of hit men, a crooked cop played by Rosie Perez and Saul’s backstabbing pal Red (Danny McBride). What begins as a sweet buddy comedy — a few soft thuds but mostly direct hits — shifts speeds and genres into a chase film, and Pineapple Express suffers badly for it. The homoerotic subplot, subtle in Franco’s hands, carries through to the hit men, where it feels exploitative. The film’s score, particularly during the action sequences, plays like a bad homage to the Jan Hammer era (TV’s Miami Vice), while the soundtrack, somewhat perplexingly, cues up Falco and Bel Biv Devoe.
There’s lots of crying in Pineapple Express, which is fine; like Wedding Crashers, this film asks vulnerability of its men. For the most part, the formula works. But where Rogen was solid in Knocked Up, surrounded by a cast of beauties and beasts, there are too many demands on him here. Even Franco can’t hold the film together as it devolves from a chase movie into a gang picture: A drug war subplot, as dull as it is unnecessary, propels Pineapple Express toward an excruciating massacre — literally, a climactic, blow-by-blow shootout of a gang war that is a stunning misuse of the comedy’s main strengths, namely Saul and his rapport with Dale. And just when it seems like it’s finally going to let up, Pineapple Express starts ending all over again. Then we get a recap at Denny’s, in which the characters rehash the film. Of all things, Pineapple Express winds up too sober for its own good.
Pineapple Express is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.