- Stunner: Pineapple Express may not be a cultural touchstone 30 years from now.
Pineapple Express (R)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Like Sonny and Cher, the match just does not compute.
Screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been part of the Judd Apatow comedy stable, the guys behind the broad comedy of Superbad. Director David Gordon Green is known for intimate character dramas like Snow Angels.
What could Pineapple Express possibly do to meld these two sensibilities?
Well ... Superbad marked a throwback to the horny-teen comedies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Green's 2004 drama Undertow a gritty piece of Southern Gothic showed a filmmaker with his own hankering for down-and-dirty exploitation cinema. So, with gratuitous dope-smoking and even more gratuitous violence, Pineapple Express probably could have been a meeting of minds over the joy of the old-school, low-budget aesthetic.
But something doesn't quite congeal in this story about a pothead process server named Dale Denton (Rogen) who, while waiting to deliver a subpoena to crime boss Ted (Gary Cole), witnesses the guy and a dirty cop (Rosie Perez) killing a rival. Dale flees, but the roach he leaves behind the specialized bud of the film's title leads Ted right to Dale and his dealer, Saul (James Franco). So they run, trying to outthink their murderous pursuers despite often being in an altered state.
The concept of a couple of stoners with a real reason to be paranoid is pretty sweet, and at its best Pineapple Express latches on to it. The most priceless segment finds the two hiding in the woods, swinging between Blair Witch-level panicked freakouts and long conversations with a caterpillar. These situations are paired with Rogen and Goldberg's gift for truly demented bon mots like Saul describing his best product as "like God's vagina." It ain't Shakespeare, but it's funny.
Like its protagonists, however, Pineapple Express proves to have a painfully short attention span. The filmmakers aren't content to mix a buddy comedy with a stoner comedy; they include as many fistfights, car chases, shootouts and ninja assaults as they can. Consequently, subplots linger without going anywhere.
It's all presented with a surplus of vintage effects split-screens, freeze-frames, slow motion but the result doesn't feel like an homage to 1970s exploitation cinema. With its quotable dialogue and outrageous violence as well as its pair of philosophically and racially different killers for hire (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson) it actually feels like an homage to Pulp Fiction and Quentin Tarantino's other homages to 1970s exploitation flicks.
Green, Rogen and Goldberg weren't out of diapers when the movies they're nodding to were made, so it feels like their reference point is actually Tarantino's next-generation gloss on them. Pineapple Express becomes a photocopy of a photocopy, the point of the original growing blurry and indistinct.
Tarantino's films work largely because of his precision; no matter how many interludes he includes, his films are meticulously edited, emotionally taut.
Pineapple Express is content to meander through its genre touchstones, settling for a finale in a diner not because it's where the story has to end, but because the filmmakers have run out of things to do.
The fun they have with the '70s begins to lose appeal once it feels like the real match between Green and his screenwriters is that they're guys with purely theoretical affection for their subjects.