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David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express

The Stop Smiling Film Review

(Sony)

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Friday, August 08, 2008


Pineapple Express
Directed by David Gordon Green
(Sony)

Reviewed by Mark Asch

Everything’s funny when you’re stoned, sure, but nobody who wasn’t there really wants to hear about it afterward, as plenty of shriveled-in-the-light-of-day tall tales attest. No, to borrow the metaphor of an anti-drug ad from a couple years ago, you have to get off the couch and out into the real world: stoner comedy’s laughs, as opposed to its incoherent giggles, come from the juxtaposition of banal social activity with impaired social function (and, often, a heightened self-awareness of same). Take Smiley Face’s baked Anna Faris attempting to casually accept an offer of a glass of orange juice — totally fucked up but dimly aping normalcy while playing against a blue-haired granny, a flawlessly calibrated barometer for her lack of sobriety.

So Pineapple Express starts off a bit skunky, as Seth Rogen’s Dale Denton (semi-respectable in a rumpled suit, continuing his trajectory of socialization began in Knocked Up) sinks into his dealer Saul’s (James Franco) couch and contemplates a tripleheaded “cross joint.” (How many custom marijuana apparatuses have screenwriters foisted on production designers and audiences over the years?) Potheads talking about pot shouldn’t be any more or less interesting than Ladies Who Shop talking about labels, but Pineapple Express gets big laughs (judging from preview screenings) because, as in high school, everybody wants to self-identify on the right side of a stoner inside joke.

But Dale and Saul do get off the couch. Here, the activity that requires attention and judgment outstripping their bleary faculties is, more or less, being characters in an action movie. The two are sucked like bong smoke into a SoCal drug war between Gary Cole’s kingpin (with crooked cop Rosie Perez being an overripe straight woman) and “the Asians” (as undifferentiated as it sounds). Written by Rogen and his Superbad partner Evan Goldberg, Pineapple Express is again structured as an odyssey (over 72 hours instead of 24), an episodic, encounter-based structure that leaves room for drop-in bits by the filmmakers’ friends. The joke, as Dale and Saul buddy-buddy up in hideouts, car chases and shootouts, is the specificity of wisecrack and idiosyncrasy of taste retained by all characters regardless of the situation — they remain pettily, randomly, hopelessly true to themselves even in extremis. How can anyone think of bringing fruit roll-ups along when running from a drug lord? Ask Anna Faris: “I’m really stoned… Sorry.”

But so are we, eventually. Pot blurs the line between ironic and un-, and somewhere between hits Pineapple Express swaps “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” for “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…?” As in Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg get their rocks off smashing a cop car. The movie climaxes in a multi-tiered fight sequence that’s overlong by a full reel (Periodic shots to the groin being the only indication that we’re still watching something intended as comedy.) The action is edited with no sense of the temporal relation between separate spaces — moving between rooms is like moving between Narnia and the wardrobe. (The director, it seems as good a time as any to mention, is David Gordon Green, though except for he and regular DP Tim Orr’s feel for dry light, Pineapple Express is unrecognizable as the work of this American primitive.)

Again as with Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg probe (hee) the latent homoeroticism of male bonding — a progressive piss-take in the era of No Homo. Franco’s teary-eyed, babyish take on the dealer who wants to be friends with his clients makes a nice running joke on dudely emotional need. But Pineapple Express’ supporting characters — Danny McBride’s silk-robed middleman with an oft-mentioned, never-glimpsed wife, or Craig Robinson’s finicky foot solider — are so feminized that, as with the action sequence, the filmmakers lose track of their own joke. By the sloppy climax, we’re watching Franco and Rogen free themselves from duct-taped handcuffs via a strategy suspiciously similar to dry humping.

The coda of Pineapple Express stages that familiar scene of guys, noticeably worse for wear, scarfing diner eggs and recounting the previous night’s exploits. And never mind the you-had-to-be-there gambit I opened with, because this time we were there. But man, that party got out of hand towards the end, and we probably should have booked out before we got too tired.



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