The tried and true stoner comedy trope has gotten another go around the track, this time done quite well by the ever -present Judd Apatow and his sidekick Seth Rogan. Having turned out solid hits with Knocked Up and Superbad, it’s reasonable to say that the two have a successful formula. They’ve done well by themselves by applying it to the more seasoned types of comedy, be it teenage-sex romps or the classic romantic comedy. After the characters Rogan has portrayed in in Apatow productions, it’s not hard to see why they decided to nudge in on Harold and Kumar’s territory next. For this Apatow, much like Kevin Smith before him, dipped into a pool of favored actors and decided on James Franco to buddy up with Rogan for Pineapple Express.
Pineapple Express will fit well into the tradition of stoned buddy comedies because behind the thick cloud of smoke is actually a pretty exciting crime drama. With a good plot to build on, Rogan and Franco have plenty of solid ground on which to parade the necessary weed humor that makes it the stoner comedy it is. And this movie is not shy about drug use for a second.
Rogan plays Dale Denton, a process server who spends his days roaming the city to deliver court documents, all the while getting high in his car. He’s a man that enjoys the easy life, with lots of free time to visit his dealer, the hilariously glassy-eyed Franco. On this particular day Franco has the first batch of a very special stash: Pineapple Express, a strain of weed that is said to be wholly unique and extremely potent. Rogan happily picks up a bag, after first testing the goods.
By this time the movie has made quite clear that this is a drug comedy, but this scene of Rogan and Franco smoking together turns out to be the first of many moments where the movie simply revels in the act of getting high. To enjoy this movie to its fullest, I recommend a later showing in a high college population. The Tempe, AZ theater I shared it with straight out applauded this initial smoking scene, as Rogan and Franco puff and cough and grin with enjoyable accuracy of weed culture.
Having taken the time to clearly let the audience know the kind of hijinks they’re in for, the slow intro into Rogan’s stoner life finally plunges into the crime drama underneath. Enjoying a smoke before serving his final summons of the day, Rogan witnesses his intended recipient kill a man, assisted by a local cop. Startled, he drops his roach and makes a noisy getaway. So noisy in fact, that the killers have plenty of time to see that they’ve been witnessed. On the run from the killers, Rogan goes to the only place he can think of – his dealer’s apartment. While explaining the whole event to Franco the two come to a chilling realization. Pineapple Express is so rare a strain that by dropping the roach at the scene of the murder, Rogan has left behind a clear trail back to Franco’s house. Panicked, the two grab all the weed they can and start running.
With the introduction of the dramatic elements of the film the cast flushes out to reveal some of the more entertaining criminals since Pulp Fiction. Killer Gary Cole is the cold head of a drug ring, staying in business with the help of his lady cop lover, played by an intense Rosie Perez. The two make a charmingly dysfunctional couple, alternately kissing and fighting as they dole out orders to their hitmen, a pair reminiscent of Tarantino’s Jules and Vincent. It is with the criminal element that we get a sobering counterpart to the stoner comedy – gritty and pretty unrestrained violence. The very murder that sets off the chase takes a no holds barred approach, covering a plate glass window in blood and becoming the first of many killings to come.
Knowing that their lives are in danger, Rogan and Franco head out to the woods to hide, which, being stoners, is as far as their plan goes. Hiding out from the killers, they take the time to enjoy the smoke they’ve brought with them, and the film pauses again to revel in hitting a joint. This cycle of violent killers chasing after idiot stoners continues, with frequent pauses by all parties to stop and get high. However, like Harold and Kumar before, weed is not the point of the story but the catalyst for it. A nice take on the seedy underbelly of drug culture mixed with dramatic chase and fight scenes gives the movie an actual plot and keeps the comedy duo moving. It is a movie that likes to stop and smell the weed smoke as well as enjoy a good final shoot-out.
This balance of blatant stoner jokes to dramatic story is what makes Pineapple Express such a good ride. Once the chase is on, the movie keeps up a great pace with a small cast. Following in the footsteps of other good Apatow comedies, Pineapple Express is a solid take on a favorite niche comedy that will be another in a growing line of movies from one of decade’s busiest writer/director teams.
– Jennifer Von Freeden