"Pineapple Express", the new film from producer Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Knocked Up" and "Superbad") is a very funny, action packed film and goes a long way to restore my faith in the promise this filmmaker has shown to turn the comedy genre around. He just needs to be a little more selective about the films he puts his name on. And this film suffers from the same evil every one of his other films suffers from; it is too long. By about twenty minutes.
Dale Denton (Seth Rogen, also a co-writer for the film) is a process server who is just as happy to spend a lot of time driving around and smoking pot. When he does have a job to do, he employs one of the many elaborate costumes he keeps in his trunk and seems to do a good job. But he simply isn't motivated to do anything but smoke pot. His dealer, Saul (James Franco), likes Dale so he offers him some 'Pineapple Express', a super-exclusive new blend from his supplier, Ted. Dale and Saul try some and proceed to get very high, but Dale has to leave and serve another subpoena. He rolls up in front of a house and proceeds to light up, eager to maintain the buzz. A cop pulls up behind him and the officer (Rosie Perez) hurries inside to join Ted (Gary Cole) as they murder an archenemy. Dale sees the whole thing through Ted's plate glass living room window. Excited, he tries to flee, but manages to hit the police car, garnering Ted's attention. He hurries back to Saul and the two are soon on the run from Ted. Along the way, they try to get Red (Danny McBride), Ted and Saul's middleman, to help them. And Dale has to deal with his teenager girlfriend, Angie (Amber Heard) who is anxious for Dale to come over for dinner and meet her parents (Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr.).
"Pineapple Express", directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") is a funny, strange, unusual film. I can't think of a lot of stoner action-comedies, so it certainly has originality going for it. And I think the influence of Green, who has a background in hyper-realistic independent dramas, also adds something unique and unusual to the story.
Dale and Saul are both very funny characters and the moments we spend getting to know each of them are very funny. Dale is a guy who knows he has to work, if for no other reason than to support his pot habit. So he completes his assignments and does a good job of it. The job is really a perfect fit for Dale as it gives him flexible hours, he can work out of his car, and spend as much time smoking pot, as he likes. Wearing an out of date beige suite and his hair puffed up, he spends a lot of time in his car, driving around, and a haze of smoke enveloping him as he roams the city streets.
Rogen injects this character with a lot of humor. As we meet Dale, he is driving around in his mid 80s Cadillac, smoking, talking to himself, singing along to the music. This is a guy with few cares in the world. When he has to work, he has built up an elaborate collection of costumes, allowing him access to a diverse group of people, allowing him to get close enough to serve them their papers. He has a delivery person's outfit, a doctor's smock and other costumes, and more all stowed away in his trunk.
When he goes to see Saul, to buy some pot, we realize that as much as he is a pothead, he still has some common sense. He is a little weirded out when Saul claims they are friends and doesn't know how to react exactly.
It is also interesting to watch Dale's interactions with Angie, his girlfriend, who is still a teenager, in high school. He stops by to see her during her break between classes and watches as she interacts with other students (including a jock is the complete opposite of Rogen's character) and a male teacher (who is clearly smitten with the jock, funny stuff). Just as we see that Dale does have some common sense, the fact he is dating a teenager contradicts this previous thought and we realize Dale is a little more complicated than we originally thought. Angie is very adamant that Dale comes over for dinner, to meet her parents (played by Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn). I don't know about you, but if my teenage daughter brought over someone as old as Dale and introduced him as a boyfriend, I would flip out. But their eventual meeting is a lot more interesting than that because it ties into the rest of the story and becomes a part of the ongoing saga.
Saul, played by James Franco, is less interesting, but still funny. When we first meet Saul it is because he is an extension of Dale's life. Therefore, we don't learn as much about Saul, about his life without Dale. When Dale shows up, the effects of living in a cloud of pot are immediately apparent. Saul has to focus very hard for anything to make sense, in order to make anything happen. When Dale arrives, he seems genuinely pleased to see his best customer and they share camaraderie. But Saul seems more interested in shooting the breeze with Dale, talking about anything and nothing. Dale recognizes their relationship is strictly business and wants to buy his pot and get out of there.
I have to give a lot of credit to James Franco for making Saul seem so real. With dirty stringy hair held back by a sweatband and wearing a t-shirt and sleep bottoms, Saul is wearing his work uniform. He rarely, if ever, has to leave his apartment, so he might as well be comfortable. Because he is high all the time, Saul readily smiles and laughs, appearing to be goofy at all times. This is quite a transformation for this actor and he is easily classified as one of the most handsome actors working in film today. The fact Franco can make Saul seem real, like the grubby mess he is supposed to be, is a testament to his skill because it is so different from our usual image of this actor.
As the story veers off in various directions, Saul takes a few minutes to catch up, a few minutes to calculate what he should try to do and accomplish. And frequently, this is not the right thing, but at least he tries.
Danny McBride is receiving a lot of great critical notices for his portrayal of Red. This is the type of character who is so out of left-field (even in a stoner action-comedy) that he has to garner attention. The abuse he receives throughout the course of the film is amusing because it becomes obsessive and just when you think it can't go on, it does.
Judd Apatow has assembled an interesting cast and his choice of director is unusual, to say the least. David Gordon Green, the director behind "George Washington", "All the Pretty Girls", "Undertow" and "Snow Angels", helms this stoner action-comedy. Based on his previous films, it seems an odd choice. But it also proves to be an interesting choice, adding another level to this project making it a better and more interesting film.
I think the influence of David Gordon Green comes in some moments peppered here and there, helping to establish the relationships between the characters. It is fairly remarkable these moments are included at all, but Apatow, Rogen and Goldberg included them in the script and they are just the type of thing that make Green's films stand out, so they are a part of "Pineapple Express". The first time Dale goes over to Saul's apartment, they talk. During the conversation, we learn a lot about both of these characters and see how they interact. This helps to set up the rest of the film and make all of their further actions understandable. And as the film progresses, we are introduced to each character in this fashion. We meet them, they talk, we learn little things about their characters and their history with other characters, and they run off to create mischief.
If you enjoy films like "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle", you probably won't like "Pineapple Express", or at least you won't appreciate it as much. The fact that the filmmakers go to the trouble to establish characters, to have them interact with one another, and to have these interactions later inform the story and actions we are witnessing on screen, places this film head and shoulders above most stoner comedies. When Dale and Saul are stranded in the forest, they talk and we really see the extent of their relationship. When Dale and Saul end up having dinner with Angie, it is all the funnier because they are on the run from Ted, but also because how else could a meeting between a man in his mid twenties and the parents of his teenage girlfriend go?
"Pineapple Express" could benefit from more editing. It is, as most Judd Apatow films are, twenty minutes or so too long. How did I determine this? Comedies aren't supposed to drag and when you are watching a comedy and start fidgeting in your seat, it's too long. In all likelihood, you're fidgeting because you aren't laughing or your interest is waning. In Apatow's films, there are a lot of funny jokes and humorous moments, but his films begin to drag when the exposition starts, when the filmmakers try to make the characters more human and believable. A lot of this works, and a lot of this helps to set these comedies apart. But there is always too much of this.
Apatow deserves a lot of credit for including this type of thing at all, trying to make his characters seem more real than say, any Adam Sandler creation, but he tends to go overboard. In "Knocked Up", there was a lengthy sequence after the two leads fight showing Rogen's character getting an apartment, moving in, getting a day job, etc. This is a good way to help establish his character, but it goes on too long and takes on an overly serious tone. In "Pineapple Express", there are one or two too many scenes between Dale and Saul, making their interactions a bit long.
But "Pineapple Express" is a stoner action – comedy. I have never seen another film claiming to be this, so "Express" has a lot of area to cover during it's almost two hour running time. There is a funny action scene about halfway through when Saul and Dale are trying to get away from Rosie Perez. Saul is driving a police car, unable to see through the windshield. The climax is an elaborately staged action sequence in an old barn. This scene is both too long and almost brilliant. It is almost brilliant because it is too long and goes on forever, with all of the characters fighting one another, inflicting real pain and real harm. It does go on too long, but as it continues you realize how excessive it is. Each time someone gets harmed, they get up again, ready for more.
"Pineapple Express" is very good. It isn't great, but it is funny, action packed and has more than a few memorable laughs.