Top positive review
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Remarkably fun and well-crafted.
on August 7, 2008
A movie like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS should not be expected to be talked about in the same breath as CITIZEN KANE or GONE WITH THE WIND. However, it has nonetheless ascended to near the top ranks in its own particularly little sub-genre: the "pot" comedy.
While Cheech & Chong's UP IN SMOKE will probably always lead the pack, simply for being the first (and for being very edgy...in it's day)...EXPRESS is the first film of its ilk to boast huge laughs, modest thrills, enjoyable lead characters and a narrative structure that doesn't fall apart the further it goes. For example, the HAROLD AND KUMAR films can be greatly amusing, but their "plot" grows more and more flaccid and pointless as they move along. The lead "characters" are hardly believable as people...they are comic devices.
In PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, we have the story of a process server (Seth Rogan) who enjoys doing little else but smoking pot. He is decent at his job, but also spends much of it sitting in his car smoking. He's dating a high school girl who would have been seriously out of his league when HE was in school. His "best friend" may just be his pot dealer (James Franco.) And through an unfortunate circumstance, Rogan witnesses the murder of an Asian drug dealer by the leader (Gary Cole) of the other drug ring in his city. The murder is aided by a policewoman (Rosie Perez), who is also a pretty vicious killer. They get wise to who their witness is when Rogan makes the mistake of tossing his half-smoked joint out the window of his car as he hurriedly drives away. You see, the joint is made of a new weed called Pineapple Express, which thus far has been sold only to one drug middleman (Danny McBride), who has only sold it to one of his dealers...Franco. Thus, almost immediately, Rogan and Franco are on the run for their lives. Eventually they will have to beat these violent men at their own game just to survive.
That's about it for the basics of the plot...but what is nice about it is the way it holds together from beginning to end. The characters go through a journey and they change and grow a little. While the dialogue and humor are important, this is one "pot" movie where the plot is actually important to the film, not just an excuse to make "I'm so stoned" jokes.
Rogan is basically playing his character from KNOCKED UP again...but if you need that sort of character, he's got it down cold. He's a nice loser who actually looks like a real life person. Danny McBride joins this group of losers midway through, and he brings a nice jolt of almost absurdist humor the film. He's like Rasputin mixed with the character Terry on RENO 911 (you know, the "male prostitute" on roller skates). Gary Cole and Perez are a little too generic, and frankly, the bad guys in the film are not well-sketched out. Their behavior is inconsistent and not always credible.
James Franco steals the film, though. He was born to play this role. In movies as varied as SPIDERMAN and FLYBOYS...he often is unsuccessful at playing a button up, "serious" types. He's better when allowed to let his slacker show through. In FREAKS AND GEEKS, he was a stoner heartthrob, who discovered he had deep reserves of loyalty and love. In PINEAPPLE, he's a stoner with very little to offer, but who has a simplicity and openness about him that makes him likeable. Yes, it's the pot that has made him this way...but Franco refuses for settle for a simple caricature. His stoned but winning eyes & smile are the heart of this film.
The humor is certainly R-rated. Lots of "f" bombs. A fair amount of violence near the end too. It's crass and loud at times. Sometimes the jokes are obvious and unoriginal. But mostly it is sustained by moments of real feeling (as we see so often in films with the name Apatow stamped on them), likeable characters and a plot that has a beginning, middle & end.
Now, finally, let me comment on the "drug" elements. I don't use drugs. Even in my days of "youthful indiscretion" I was not a dabbler. I would certainly be what anyone would call "conservative" on this particular issue. So therefore, I might tend to take offense at such "glorification" of drugs. But I'm not sure that the film does that. True, it pretty much assumes that the entire world does drugs. But it also shows, quite clearly and without preaching, that the use of these drugs, while inducing pleasurable feelings, also induces stupid decision making, slothfulness and wastefulness. Clearly, it sides with those who would make pot legal...but it doesn't disdain those who oppose this. It simply IS. I can't imagine this film would make anyone change their behavior. Those who use pot regularly already are likely to smile in recognition at much of the behavior. Those who don't use it will NOT be inspired to give it a try. So while I'm not thrilled at a film that is clouded 90% of the time with pot fumes...I can't get upset about it either.