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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Pineapple Express


by Rick Duran

Pineapple Express may be the most mainstream stoner comedy in recent years. Exercising the male-bonding sensitivity of Superbad, excessive violence, and hilarious one-liners, Pineapple Express is a winning comedy that also prominently features casual drug-use throughout the entire film. What sets this adventure apart from previous pot comedies is an emphasis on real action, and two strong performances from stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. While there are some script and timing issues, this film is a high-energy comedy event that should appeal to fans of past hits under the Apatow Productions banner.

Seth Rogen stars as Dale Denton, a process server delivering subpoenas in costume to unsuspecting targets. During one delivery, Dale witnesses a murder in which one accomplice was a police officer (Rosie Perez), he tosses his joint out his car window and flees the scene after hitting the two cars he was parked between. What Dale did not know was that one of the murderers was Ted Jones (Gary Cole), master of one of the town's two top drug cartels. Dale's joint was rolled of "Pineapple Express", a rare form of marijuana tested by the government in the 1930s (hilariously explained in an opening flashback sequence featuring Bill Hader), only sold in the town by Saul (played brilliantly by James Franco.) Dale and Saul embark on a frantic escape, after being betrayed by Saul's drug supplier Red (Danny McBride), while being hunted by two of Ted's assassins (Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan.)

This is not the first marijuana comedy to feature complicated action scenes; Tenacious D, Harold and Kumar, and Jay and Silent Bob have all dodged bullets in films from this decade. What sets Pineapple Express apart from those is that its full-fledged action scenes are not very comedic. Acclaimed indie director David Gordon Green executes the violence in a very realistic manner, particularly throughout the film's action-packed third act. Even the film's primarily comic violent scene with Rogen and Franco versus McBride is choreographed exactly how inexperienced fighters would react, at one point even questioning if they've gone too far. Of course, this is a comedy so the violence never goes completely dark, and McBride hilariously emerges as the film's Wile E. Coyote (see the movie poster for an idea of this.) So 'realistic' doesn't entirely apply here.

There are four primary comedic performances that carry the violent world of Pineapple Express: Rogen, McBride, Robinson and especially Franco. It's no surprise for Rogen to once again deliver in a role similar to the ones that made him a star. Likewise to fans of Team Apatow, it's no secret that The Office's Craig Robinson is a lovable scene-stealer, even when playing the villain. But Franco completely steals the show as Saul, the lonely stoner yearning for a friend. The role and genre are a departure for Franco, who impressively makes a 180-degree turn from his dramatic work. Franco's performance is the heart of the film, in which writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg again explore the emotion behind friendship through the fear of loneliness. Robinson and Corrigan serve as a parallel partnership, in which Robinson shows that assassins also yearn for acknowledgement (much like his self-hating bouncer in Knocked Up.) One could argue that Pineapple Express is a violent Superbad, with Dale and Saul as Seth and Evan, the assassins in place of the cops, and Red as the McLovin-ish third wheel. Close-watching fans will even notice that both films take place in the same location of Clark County.

Those similarities could cause reason for skepticism, but the action does keep the format from showing grey hairs. One flaw in the film is the action doesn't arrive soon enough, as the first half hour does run like a standard stoner comedy. This first act could have benefited from some introduction to the villains. In fact, the connection between Cole's drug ring and Perez's police officer are almost completely neglected, as are their characters in general. Cole's character is "well-connected" and trying to eliminate the rival Asian drug cartel is as much of a backstory as the audience is given. Of course, these may be minor flaws when reviewing a "stoner action comedy," but they are noticeable. Ultimately, the laughs and stunts win the day, providing yet another crowd-pleaser from producer Judd Apatow. His productions have become a reliable franchise, and Pineapple Express ranks highly on his track record (which arguably has few misses at all.)

Netflix, Inc.