Pineapple Express, like the title of it’s rare breed of totally killer weed, is lost in it’s own high. This is an action-comedy that has tons of action but very little to laugh at. Seth Rogen stars as process server and pot-head Dale Denton. In an out-of-the-blue comedic turn, James Franco is his dope dealer Saul. When Dale witnesses a murder and the killers notice him, he flees in a pot-induced panic tossing a roach at the scene of the crime. Dale high-tails it for Saul’s to see whether or not this rare breed of weed is so exclusive that it can be traced back to Saul. Of course it can. That kicks off a set of events that puts Dale and Saul on the run for their lives. In a summer loaded with comic-book movies, there is more comic-book violence in this than there is in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight combined.
Once the premise is set, the chase is on. Dale and Saul look for help in all the wrong places, including enlisting their friend Red (Danny McBride) and Dale’s high school girlfriend Angie as accomplices to their salvation. There are warring factions of drug lords that catch the guys in the middle and only the weed can calm them down. Blunts are smoked, punches are thrown and bullets fly as Express chugs towards a preposterous climax. This film can’t make up it’s mind what it is. It seems to try to play like Midnight Run but it’s much more Half-Baked.
There is extreme violence and all kinds of absurdity throughout, and while that serves as the point of the picture, it’s ineffective. It’s supposed to be campy and ridiculous and it is…it’s just not enjoyable. There are inconsistencies throughout. While some actors, Rogen and Franco among them, seem to be playing it more forward and straight, others are way beyond over the top. The film simply does not work. There is absolutely no resolve to a plot situation involving Angie and her family and it’s a head-scratcher even the most stoned won’t be able to overlook. The only logical explanation is that the filmmakers were high when they shot, wrote and edited this and they passed the dutchie to the left hand side to the studio heads so they ignored it too.
When you discover that it’s directed by indy-vet David Gordon Green, writer and director of Snow Angels and All the Real Girls, feel free to check to see if you’re being Punk’d. Ashton is nowhere near this good. The denouement of the film essentially serves as a recap that highlights the majority of the film’s lowlights in a 3-minute conversation. To think that the guy that made George Washington is behind this mess shows what can happen when someone wants to take their shot at the mainstream with the wrong vehicle. In this case, it went up in smoke.
With a hot name like Judd Apatow producing, an eclectic cast willingly jumps on board. Office Space’s Gary Cole plays drug kingpin, Ted Jones. Rosie Perez rises from the ashes to play his aid as a corrupt cop here, but she should have stayed buried, it would have done her career more justice. Also, be on the lookout for a cameo from Ed Begley Jr. as an impatient, shotgun-toting father to Angie. He does one of the best jobs in the film.
One of the few bright spots is Franco’s Saul. Channeling Sean Penn’s infamous Jeff Spicoli, he brings a sweet innocence to his role. He is a loveable loser longing for friendship who happens to find it in the comparative genius of his client Denton. There is a not-so-subtle undertone exposing the sensitive side of male friendship and while it is incredibly cheesy, it’s one of the few things here that can be appreciated. Weed acts as a stand-in for sports and women as the most typical objects of male bonding.
A few others make an impression as well. Craig Robinson is a scene-stealer as hit man Matheson. I am afraid he will always be a sidekick, but he is an effective one, recalling a younger Bernie Mac before he got big, for better or worse. The much-hyped comedic chops of McBride (The Foot Fist Way) are a mixed bag. His Red, a middleman to Jones and Saul, serves up a few bullets as a tough as nails sidekick, but he shoots plenty of blanks as well.
Overall the comedy is flat and nothing is tongue in cheek. As co-writer and lead actor, Apatow-disciple Rogen has to receive the brunt of the blame here. If you don’t get a joke, it’s forced upon you through explanation to understand. For example, when Dale loses a piece of his ear to gunfire, Saul explains to him that it looks bad but can turn out fine, “just look at Evander Holyfield, you can’t even tell.” With Rogen being a hot name in Hollywood, people want to work with Hollywood’s “it” guy. They ought to be seriously re-thinking that thought process after seeing this debacle.
I am sure that the cast and crew had a blast making this film but this feels like a vanity project. They forgot to factor in audience participation in their end result. Don’t get high off your own supply, fellas. The moviemakers wanted to make their homage to “stoner” movies, the thought process being that you will have more fun watching this in an altered state. That may indeed be true, but it is also true of virtually any movie that attempts to elicit such absurd laughter, so it gets no points there. While they have succeeded at making said stoner film, it’s flimsier than the wafts of smoke that need to be inhaled to attempt to appreciate it. Those that aren’t high need not apply.
The usual suspects in the cast showing up in every movie that bares the Apatow signature is, at the very least, getting tiresome. The reaction that Express receives will go a long way towards deciding whether or not audiences feel the same way going forward. I suspect they’ll be misguided and fall for it’s spell initially but it will be best served finding a slower burn on DVD. This movie wants you to have fun, I just can’t imagine why many moviegoers really will.