Combustible Celluloid
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With: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Amber Heard, Danny R. McBride, Rosie Perez, Gary Cole, Ed Begley Jr., Kevin Corrigan, Adam Crosby, Nora Dunn, Bill Hader, Ken Jeong, Peter Lewis, Robert Longstreet, Joe Lo Truglio, Arthur Napiontek, James Remar, Craig Robinson, Eddie Rouse, Brian Scannell, Stormy
Written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by: David Gordon Green
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence
Running Time: 111
Date: 08/06/2008

Pineapple Express (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Chronic Laughter

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The human comedy factory Judd Apatow and the moody, dreamy art-house director David Gordon Green (George Washington, Snow Angels) make an unlikely team, but here they are, and the result may well be the funniest movie of the year. It's also the best drug comedy since Cheech and Chong's salad days in Up in Smoke (1978).

In Green's hands, one might expect a more introspective, artsy look at the drug scene, something more along the lines of Dazed and Confused (1993). But while Green's usual cinematographer Tim Orr also forgoes his usual slow Malick-like style for a simple, widescreen, sunny, hazy look, Pineapple Express manages to be laid-back and goofy enough for stoners, but also crazy and frenetic enough for everyone else.

Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote the screenplay) stars as Dale Denton, a slovenly process server who uses various disguises to serve his subpoenas and dates a hot, blond high school girl (Amber Heard, from Alpha Dog). He spends all day in his car and smokes a lot of pot. Running dry, he visits his dealer, Saul (James Franco), in stringy hair and pajama pants. Saul is a smart, good-natured soul who seems to like Dale, while giving other customers the brush-off.

Dale has learned never to be friends with drug dealers, and so he keeps his distance. But when Dale attempts to serve one of his clients, witnesses a murder and leaves a special joint ("Pineapple Express") at the scene, both he and Saul become entrenched in a gang war between dirty cops and Asian gangsters.

The villains are more or less interchangeable, despite attempts to give them funny things to do or say (one, a large black man, shows a sensitive side, while another likes to go home for dinner with his wife). And a third character, Saul's pal Red, is overplayed by Danny R. McBride. But as long as Dale and Saul are onscreen together, the movie soars.

Franco sheds a decade's worth of serious, boring performances for his first glimpse of warmth and humor, and he's amazing. He and Rogen appear to enjoy a real friendship; it's a terrific "male bonding" picture.

As for the drugs, Pineapple Express unapologetically celebrates pot-smoking (the screenplay contains more uses of the word "man" than just about anything since Cheech and Chong) but also contains the occasional disclaimer. In the heat of the chase, Dale decides that it's a good idea not to continue smoking, and when Dale's girlfriend asks him why he never acted like he cared about anything, he exclaims, "Because I was high!" (At the same time, a prologue comes up with a hilariously arbitrary reason as to why the drug is illegal in the first place.)

In the third act, Pineapple Express becomes a mirror image of the Hollywood Die Hard action formula, simultaneously reveling in ridiculous violence, and also commenting upon it. I wasn't sure such an action-packed finale had any place in a drug comedy, but I was too busy laughing to care.

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