If you were to put "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
" and "Commando" in a blender and press purée, the result might very well end up looking a lot like "Pineapple Express." In a drastic change of pace from his indie auteurism, director David Gordon Green (2008's "Snow Angels
") has helmed his first studio picture. Even so, Green and screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg make sure that what they've come up with is less homogenized than your everyday, garden-variety comedy. R-rated and meaning it, "Pineapple Express" begins as a been-there-done-that stoner romp before turning into an outlandishly silly and graphically violent action-thriller. The tone may be schizophrenic, but the sheer, unabashed showmanship of the whole thing warrants praising.
Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a 25-year-old, pot-smoking process server who has begun to question his relationship with high schooler Angie (Amber Heard). After stopping off at friendly drug dealer Saul Silver's (James Franco) apartment to pick up some ultra-rare, one-of-a-kind weed called Pineapple Express, Dale resumes his job and heads over to the home of Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Before he has a chance to step out of his car and hand him his subpoena, he witnesses Ted and crooked cop Carol (Rosie Perez) brutally murder a man in the upstairs window. In a panic, Dale drops his roach and flees the scene. It is only later, back at Saul's place, that the two realize Ted is one of Saul's suppliers and will be able to trace the chronic back to them. With Ted, Carol and cronies Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan) and Matheson (Craig Robinson) hot on their trail, Dale and Saul have no choice but to go on the run.
"Pineapple Express" knows no boundaries when it comes to bloodshed and bad taste, both of which only get heavier as the film progresses. The pot humor is tired, particularly when compared to 2007's underseen Anna Faris comedy "Smiley Face," but that fortunately takes a back-seat as the chase commences. In what sometimes feels like a rehash of "Superbad
," Dale and Saul form an unlikely bond amidst heightened circumstances, eventually have a falling-out, and then rekindle their friendship in time for the bullet-and-gore-heavy climax. The laughs aren't usually of the laugh-out-loud variety, more amusing than anything, but there still are a number of funny moments. Cleo King (2006's "Dreamgirls
") is a comic standout in her one-scene cameo as a no-nonsense cop, and Danny McBride (2008's "Drillbit Taylor
") is a delirious force of nature as Saul's drug dealer friend Red, who miraculously survives throughout despite any number of extreme injuries. The gorgeous Amber Heard (2008's "Never Back Down
") is also game as Dale's teenage girlfriend Angie, though her subplot ultimately whittles down to an afterthought by the end.
The violence in "Pineapple Express" is nearly on the level of 2008's "Rambo
," and there are times when characters' deaths are so sobering that the viewer is left to question what's supposed to be humorous about it. Still, director David Gordon Green refuses to shy away from the brutality, which finally gets to be so gratuitous that all one can do is smirk in acknowledgment and go along with it. It helps that, when all is said and done, the picture is first and foremost about the relationship between Dale and Saul. The growth of their best-bud friendship is genuinely affectionate and, dare it be said, kind of sweet, one kiss away from turning into a love story.
As Dale, Seth Rogen (2007's "Knocked Up
") continues his reign as one of the most likable schlubs-cum-leading-men working in film today, but he is outshined by partner-in-crime James Franco (2007's "Spider-Man 3
"). Better-known for his dramatic work, Franco utterly amazes with what he does with the role of Saul. Sure, he's a pot dealer, but he's the most lovable pot dealer in memory, and Franco aids in also turning him into a comedically rich, three-dimensional protagonist whose constant hazy high does not take away his love for his grandma and his desire for human companionship.
As is the case with all Judd Apatow-produced features, "Pineapple Express" is uneven and long-winded, coming close to reaching an unnecessary length of two hours. The material, showing and sometimes exposing promise, deserves more focus and fewer characters and subplots vying for attention. Nevertheless, there is a heart beating beneath the zany frivolityand, in this case, exploding body partsand a sense that the makers care about their unlikely heroes as much as the audience grows to. "Pineapple Express" is go-for-broke lunacy, at once hectic and meandering, but James Franco's inspired performance raises the experience up to one that is worth taking a chance on.