by Tony Dayoub
Pineapple Express is the latest comedy from the guys who hang under the Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) shingle. And it is the first to utterly disappoint, I'm sorry to say. The movie's a mess. It doesn't know whether it wants to be a stoner comedy, or a mismatched buddy caper, or a crime thriller. Yeah, I get it... indie director David Gordon Green (Snow Angels) is trying to demonstrate he can bust all genre limitations with this one. And maybe it works as his audition reel for joining the studio system. But as a movie, it fails big.
It starts so promisingly, too. Process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is sleepwalking through his thin misguided life. He dresses up in phony disguises to serve his subpoenas. Occasionally, he stops to visit his girlfriend, Angie (Amber Heard), at her high school. Any reflections on the sorry state of his life are mostly smoked away with pot he purchases from Saul Silver (James Franco). Saul is so insulated by his paranoia at getting caught dealing, that he aches for a friend. Dale is nice enough and cool enough to fit that bill, so Saul shares his newest batch of weed known as "Pineapple Express" with him. This batch is so uniquely good that smoking it is a shame. According to Saul, "It's like killing a unicorn... with a bomb."
Dale leaves to serve Ted Jones (Gary Cole), supplier of said "Pineapple Express", with a subpoena. Arriving at the wrong time, he witnesses Jones and his cop girlfriend, Carol (Rosie Perez), murdering a rival dealer. Dale takes off in a hurry, but Jones and Carol identify a roach the pothead leaves behind as containing his batch of marijuana. When Dale goes back to Saul, and finds out he's the first to buy a sample of the "Pineapple", they both realize that it is only a matter of time before Jones tracks them down and eliminates them.
This is where it begins to fall apart. Scenes go on far too long as we hang with Dale and Saul in the woods while they consider what their next move is in their pot-induced reverie. Conversations that show the beginnings of a joke or two, go around in meaningless circles till they finally just die. Is it meant to represent the feeling of being high? Sure it is. But it doesn't make for good entertainment if a comedy fails to make you laugh as this one frequently does. Cheech and Chong's films, Friday, and even the Harold and Kumar comedies all knew how to wring laughs from the stoner premise. Part of it is their fearlessness when descending into total inanity.
But director Green is hoping to elevate this to another level. The film fails there also. Attempts at giving the two buddies some depth through their shared experience seem forced, and ultimately squelched by the filmmakers' own hesitancy to venture into emotional territory. When, at various repetitive times, the two leads are in desperate straits, they frequently profess affection to each other. But it's always done tongue in cheek, or defused by a well-timed quip.
So is it a parody? I don't know. It seems to be too serious for that. At times, presenting itself as a crime thriller, like when Dale and Saul are finally confronted by Jones and his goons, the movie gets pretty graphic and intense with its violence. If Green is going for a Landis-like twist on chase movies, a la The Blues Brothers or even Into the Night, it fails there also. Landis knew how to tie up loose ends, for instance. Dale has Angie and her parents (Nora Dunn and Ed Begley, Jr.), hide in a motel, revisits Angie twice (with parents nowhere to be seen), only to never be heard from again before the movie concludes. I doubt that Dunn and Begley deigned to do this movie only to appear in one short, throwaway scene. I suspect, instead, that there are large chunks of this film on the cutting room floor.
This film is about as disjointed a one as I've seen in some time. It's like they threw everything at it but the kitchen sink, and hoped some of it would stick. Not silly enough to elicit laughs, not deep enough to explore the two stoner-buds' friendship, and not tight enough to serve as a thriller of any sort, Pineapple Express isn't even worthy to watch while high. So save yourself some time, money, and laugh-enhancing medication and just skip it.