Seth Rogen and James Franco in Pineapple Express

“You should make a weed action movie,” Judd Apatow said to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and thus was birthed Pineapple Express. The description is as apt as any, even if the words seem slightly counter-intuitive when combined (much like “legitimate online journalist.”) Apatow and company succeed gloriously on both counts with Pineapple Express, providing plenty of weed and action, both laced with highly potent comedy… until the delicate mash-up falters in the third act with a heavy and uneven tilt towards excessive violence.

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a bored, pot-loving process server who looks forward to the end of the day (as well as the beginning and the middle) when he can sit back, relax, and smoke away the tedium. Saul Silver (James Franco) is his constantly baked dealer desperate for a meaningful friendship. When Dale witnesses a murder, his panicked disposal of the titular ganja puts the two of them into the middle of a drug war. Their comedic misadventure finds them getting high, running from both the law and the bad guys, getting high, bonding between the bullets, and getting high. The action culminates in a barn shootout that would make Quentin Tarantino cream his chinos (which is fitting as Apatow credits the idea’s genesis to a late night viewing of True Romance… he remembers wishing Floyd, the stoner played by Brad Pitt, was the character being chased instead of Christian Slater.)

Pineapple Express is the funniest film I’ve seen this year (he said, having yet to see Tropic Thunder or Twilight), and the credit goes to pretty much every one involved. The script by Rogen and Goldberg is chock full of stellar dialogue and one-liners. David Gordon Green’s first genre picture is a far cry from his character dramas and indie roots, but he proves quite adept at comedy both broad and subtle. Franco surprises as a deft funny man equally capable of inducing laughter with an expression or a throw away line, “Fuck the police!” being a prime example. Danny McBride as Saul’s fellow dealer, Red, is getting a lot of well-deserved praise. His voice somehow manages to lilt and drawl simultaneously, and some of the best dialogue is his (much of it reportedly improvised on-set… the anal beads comment in the bathroom is perfect.) A fight scene at Red’s house midway through the film between Dale, Saul, and Red is an instant classic. In the spirit of They Live, the brawl seems to go on forever and manages to be both brutal and hysterical.

Seth Rogen, James Franco and Danny McBride in Pineapple Express

The film’s problems are few, and most are more of an annoyance than anything else. Rogen is Rogen, and while he’s a funny guy on screen and in person, part of his acting style is to yell a lot in a guttural and grating voice that promises to launch sputum at you any second. The mucous-laden threat never reaches fruition, but it annoys all the same. A sub-plot involving Dale’s high school-aged girlfriend never goes anywhere, and while pairing Rogen with a hot blond was part of the plot in Knocked Up, here it seems gratuitous and wholly unbelievable. And then there’s the film’s final half hour. Language aside, this is where the movie earns its R-rating with a constant stream of bloody carnage and comedic brutality. There are still some laughs to be found in the big finale, but it’s mostly an onslaught of frenzied and ridiculous action. I love cinematic violence, but the entire third act seems excessively out of step with everything that preceded it.

A scene at the end, reportedly improvised by the actors, is the saving grace of the shootout. The survivors sit in a diner recapping the events of the film with incredulous awe. They voice thoughts shared by the audience, and in doing so make the preceding absurdity acceptable. Rogen has said the scene is actually longer than what made it into the final cut, so here’s hoping the DVD features the entire conversation running alongside the end credits or as an extended/deleted scene. Pineapple Express is a laugh out loud funny movie, and on the Apatow-meter I’d place it closer to Superbad than Knocked Up. (That’s a good thing.) It’s going to make tons of cash, so why not add yours to the Apatow coffers?

Pineapple Express opens in theaters on August 6, 2008.

The Upside: Funny as fuck for most of its running time; Franco and McBride are comedic revelations; if the DVD includes a “how-to” feature on rolling a cross-joint I’m bragging to everyone I know that I suggested it during an interview; Bill Hader cameo in the beginning is priceless.

The Downside: Rogen’s constant yelling in his acid-reflux voice; gratuitous hot chick Heard does not have a gratuitous nude scene; action goes overboard in the third act at the expense of the comedy.

Grade: B+


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