There’s hazy fun aboard the Pineapple Express

by Glen Baity

Our monthly viewing from the Judd Apatow collection is another late-summer romp from writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who scored a left-field hit this time last year with Superbad.

Thanks to its widely-circulated “red band” trailer, audiences have been buzzing about the Apatow-produced Pineapple Express for months. I’ve heard it called the first stoner action movie, which may be true. But peer through the plumes of smoke and you’ll find little more than Superbad with guns, gangsters and ganja. That’s not a bad thing.

Like that film, Pineapple relies on your affection for its two goofy leading men. No problem there: Rogen is as likeable as always in Dale, who serves subpoenas for a living and enjoys life’s simple pleasures, like smoking pounds of dope and calling into talk radio shows. The Chong to his Cheech is a super laid-back and embarrassingly sweet drug dealer named Saul, played with uncanny realism by James Franco.

The two have nothing in common besides their abiding love of high-end weed — the tropical strain Saul sells to Dale at the beginning of the film is called Pineapple Express — but they’re thrown together when Dale shows up in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses a gangland murder. In a panic, he runs back to Saul’s apartment, the last safe place his hazy mind can recall.

But before he starts running for his life, Dale ditches a roach at the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for him, the gunman is none other than Ted (Gary Cole), Saul’s supplier. Ted finds the joint, immediately recognizes its pedigree and sends a few tough guys over to Saul’s apartment, sparking a city-wide chase.

The film does a good job integrating its topic of choice — pot and the people who smoke it — into a giddy 100-minute caper. Much has been made of the film’s action element, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a half-baked Die Hard. Some violent moments excepted, Pineapple Express feels more like “Magnum PI,” with its cartoon heroes and villains and its campy gunplay.

It’s ridiculous, it’s vulgar and it’s a great deal of fun if you’re prepared to take it all at face value. The film won me over, in part, because it doesn’t rely on pot for a lot of cheap laughs. Instead, it focuses on the weird relationship between its two main characters, which isn’t quite a friendship, yet somehow weathers the storm. Sometimes two actors just work exceedingly well together, and Rogen and Franco make a perfect team.

But this isn’t a two-man show. To the contrary, comedies from this crew so often succeed with the help of a solid supporting cast. Pineapple Express continues that trend with hilariously bizarre roles for Danny McBride, Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson, among many others. McBride in particular is great, committing himself entirely to his endearing, unsettling character, which I won’t even endeavor to describe. You just have to see him.

As good as he is, it’s hard to outshine Franco’s performance. Pineapple Express is a silly comedy about stoners, and because of that you might overlook just how good Franco is here. Within minutes, I forgot that he was an actor playing a role, because Saul doesn’t look like a creation of anyone’s imagination — he looks like a random guy who stumbled onto the set, fell asleep and woke up with a part in the movie. He’s loveable, confused and fun to spend an afternoon with.

You could say the same about all of these guys, for whom Rogen, Goldberg and director David Gordon Green have an infectious fondness. The film is crude, simply plotted and fast-paced enough to keep the viewer interested. Most importantly, it never loses its sense of humor, making this Express one you’ll want to ride all the way to the end of the line.

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