by Mel Valentin
"Pineapple Express," a stoner action/comedy written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as the follow-up to last year’s surprise hit "Superbad" is, alas, a step down for Rogen, Goldberg, and director David Gordon Green ("Snow Angels," "Undertow," "All the Real Girls," "George Washington"), an indie filmmaker working straight up for a Hollywood studio and with a script he hasn’t written himself for the first time in his career. The result is a wildly uneven, definitely overlong, often self-indulgent, sporadically hilarious action/comedy with wildly inconsistent tonal shifts from the second act onwards that make "Pineapple Express" a bit of a slog to sit through during the second half of its nearly two-hour running time.Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a stoner by day and a stoner by night. To make ends meet and feed his habit, Dale works as a process server. To get high regularly visits his friendly neighborhood drug dealer, Saul Silver (James Franco). Perpetually stoned, Saul doesn’t seem overly concerned about getting busted by the cops or getting ripped off by his customers. Dale’s the closest thing to a friend Saul has, but even Dale is less interested in hanging out with Saul and getting stoned for free than picking up his stash from Saul, getting high on his way to and from a gig serving subpoenas, and hanging out with his barely legal, still-in-high-school girlfriend, Angie (Amber Heard). Angie’s parents, Robert (Ed Begley Jr.) and Shannon (Nora Dunn), are understandably eager to meet Angie’s 25 year-old, underachieving boyfriend.
"Stoner action/comedy suffers from one too many tonal shifts."
Dale’s life of relative ease goes dangerously off track when, on a gig to serve a subpoena to Ted Jones (Gary Cole), he spots Ted and a corrupt cop, Carol (Rosie Perez), killing an Asian man in front of a brightly lit window. In a panic, Dale crashes into Carol’s police car, alerting Carol and Ted to his presence outside. Still in a panic, Dale rushes off, but leaves a roach behind. Ted, a drug supplier, immediately identifies the rare marijuana strain as “Pineapple Express” and one of his drug dealers, Red (Danny R. McBride), who, in turn, has sold the first shipment to Saul, a street-level dealer. Ted sends two hitmen with relationship problems, Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan) and Matheson (Craig Robinson), to eliminate Dale and Saul. Dale and Saul, of course, go on the run.
Far less clever, insightful, or as consistently funny as Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg’s previous collaboration, Pineapple Express belongs to a venerable sub-genre, the stoner comedy first popularized in the 1970s by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, aging hippie potheads who careened from one drug-fueled misadventure to another. Not content to pay homage to Cheech and Chong’s stoner comedies, Rogen and Goldberg grafted the tropes of the buddy action film (e.g., Midnight Run, Lethal Weapon I-IV, 48 Hours) to stoner comedy conventions. Reinvigorating long-dormant genres or sub-genres is all to the good, but Rogen and Goldberg failed to give Pineapple Express any kind of consistent tone. Pineapple Express veers from unabashedly “dumb,” but no less fun (or funny), pot-related humor (physical and verbal), to straight-up, humor-free (or almost humor-free) action scenes, especially as Pineapple Express teeters forward on its own momentum toward a disappointedly unimaginative guns-and-ammo climax.Not all is lost, though. Rogen ("Knocked Up") remains an appealing, engaging onscreen presence. Likewise with Franco ("Spider-Man I-III," "Annapolis"), better here than he’s been in a long, long time. While he’s shown occasional flashes of promise, Franco has been more than satisfied to give unmotivated, rote performances in one formulaic film after another. Maybe it was Rogen and Goldberg’s screenplay, maybe it was Green’s direction, maybe it was Rogen and Franco’s chemistry (they co-starred, long ago, on Judd Apatow’s television series, "Freaks and Geeks"), or more likely than not, all of the above, but whatever the reason, Franco helps "Pineapple Express" from sinking too low from the weight of one too many action conventions. Words of praise and commendation (and not condemnation) should be extended as well to Danny R. McBride, as the seemingly indestructible, unrealistically optimistic Red.
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originally posted: 08/06/08 03:53:00