Wednesday, August 6, 2008

#39: Pineapple Express


Pineapple Express
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (based on the novel by Charles Dickens... just kidding)
Released August 6, 2008

I found myself in my third to last microbiology class this afternoon, feeling every single wasted second of my life go by as my "professor" mangled and mispronounced almost every word she was trying to teach us. Nine weeks into this class and she was still mispronouncing my name. I could feel my blood pressure rapidly rising.

To say I was in the mood for a good comedy would be to severely understate the point.

So, the moment she turned her back to fetch something from the wipe board, I grabbed my book and my bag and high tailed it out of class, hopped into my car and drove to the nearest movie theater. Two hours later, my mood was completely flipped. Pineapple Express is completely hilarious.

If you've sworn off television and somehow managed to miss the deluge of advertising, here's the plot in a nutshell: a pothead witnesses a murder and drags his pot dealer into the ensuing pursuit/race to stay alive. Unlike most "stoner" comedies like Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke or Dave Chapelle's Half Baked, Pineapple Express is not really a movie about pot. While pot use is fairly prominent in the movie (and sure, it gets its name from a mythical strain of pot that leads to most of the hijinx within), it's more of an action-comedy in the vein of something like Midnight Run.

I don't want to get into too much regarding the plot or individually funny scenes, so I'll address two main components that really jumped out at me. The first was the direction by David Gordon Green, who has previously directed haunting indie dramas like George Washington and Snow Angels. Pineapple Express is easily the best looking, most skillfully shot of the Rogen/Judd Apatow movies, and is an impressive new direction for Green as a filmmaker.

I've been reading reviews that complain about the film's final 20 minutes, when it turns into a hyper-violent action movie/gangland-style massacre. For many viewers, this somehow felt like a change in tone, but to me, it still felt completely hilarious. While some of the violence may be a bit extreme and shocking, the fact that it seems so out of place is what makes it so amusing. It's like slapstick times 1000.

The second most impressive thing is the performance by James Franco as kind-hearted drug dealer Saul Silver. It was a brilliant move by Rogen to recast himself as Dale Denton and hand the more juicy role to Franco, and Franco returns the favor by becoming the true heart and soul of the movie. I know it sounds absurd, but it's a performance worthy of a few award nominations. Only a special kind of actor can make you love a character, even when that character is corrupting a group of junior high kids by selling them fistfulls of pot.

I must also note that Express almost seems to hum along on some kind of new definition of comic timing. It may take a few minutes to get your footing in this bizarre amoral world these characters are coasting through (Rogen's character is dating a high school girl and at one point hilariously cusses out one of her teachers), but once you start feeling the vibe, you'll find yourself cracking up at the racy dialogue, bizarre line readings and even the sudden moments of violence. I almost wanted to hug the grey haired couple in front of me for cracking up as much as they did.

For me, the final scene where a few characters chat over breakfast in a diner contained as many laugh out loud moments as the entire 90 minutes that preceded it. I can't wait for the DVD, because I've got a feeling the outtakes are going to be just as enjoyable.

For more on Pineapple Express:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia, though I would avoid the Wikipedia entry because some dickhead basically just wrote out the entire movie.
- Catch clips and showtimes over at the official movie site

The official trailer:

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