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PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008) **1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on August 12th, 2008
Posted on August 12th, 2008

“Stoner” comedies usually have a limited appeal. They feature comedians who seem comfortable in pot-smoking roles, delivering political messages to “legalize it” while they entertain with their red-eyed antics. Propaganda and politics aside, the comedic moments stem completely from the mistakes the characters make while high on weed. No, it’s not the most intelligent of comedy devices, but when the producer of the film is responsible for hilarious hits like “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked-Up” and “Supberbad,” you can expect more than your typical “Cheech and Chong” caper.

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a slobby process server who smokes endless amounts of marijuana and dates a high school student. He feels like a loser, but stays content as long as he gets high enough to forget his troubles. His favorite pot dealer, the spaced-out and lonely Saul Silver (James Franco), introduces Dale to a rare strain called “Pineapple Express” that only the drug kingpin, Ted (Gary Cole) imports. Minutes later, Dale witnesses Ted and a dirty cop, Carol (Rosie Perez) murder an informant. Dale panics and flees to Saul’s apartment making them both targets for Ted’s bizarre hitmen. The two bumbling heroes make a run for it with both the crooks and the cops on their tail. Along the way, they form a brotherly bond as they smoke joints, encounter wacky characters and save each other from the villains.

What saves this film from stoner comedy mediocrity is the chemistry between the leads. You get the sense that these guys are friends in real life and it translates into some witty interactions. Seth Rogen has proved reliably funny in the last few years and his performance here is no exception. The normally bland James Franco shocked me with his sharp comedic abilities. If any of his dialogue was improvised, then I’ve grossly underestimated his abilities in the past. Danny McBride (“The Foot Fist Way”) steals the show as Saul’s cowardly, double-crossing middleman, Red. His smarmy lies and inept fist fights with the main characters result in the film’s funniest moments. Amber Heard gets another thankless role as Angie, Dale’s underage girlfriend. Heard has a dramatic one-two punch coming later this year with the already praised horror film “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and the dark Bret Easton Ellis morality tale, “The Informers.” While Hollywood may be grooming her for greatness, cookie-cutter girlfriend roles like this one hint she’s probably a mere flash in the pan.

This film includes a scene where the main characters, desperate for getaway money, sell pot to junior high students. While no one in their right minds would condone that action, the film attempts to make them somewhat accountable for it by having one of them busted by the campus police. He escapes and we never find out if the event comes back to haunt him, but absolute accountability never factors much into this type of comedy. While it’s healthy to debate the morality of these issues, don’t forget to sit back and laugh. It is a moderately funny movie and you have to root for the lesser of the scumbags to enjoy it.

The pacing of the first half works best as it develops characters and sets up the chase. Everyone is likeable and even the bad guys seem too goofy to effectively intimidate. The film stumbles when it switches gears in the third act and becomes a second-rate “Miami Vice” parody. The ending doesn’t tie the loose ends, totally ignoring the plight of Dale’s girlfriend and the fact that the cops are still hunting for them. The film instead opts for a breakfast scene where the main characters muse over the course of events while high on weed and improvising their lines. It’s like the filmmakers expected the audience to get increasingly slap-happy over the course of the viewing and decided that they could amp up the silliness until the story no longer mattered.

Instead of trying to handle the story in a smart, original way, it follows a tired formula and depends on the talent of the cast to save the hum-drum story. The cast succeeds, but “Pineapple Express” does not reach the same level of quality as other films frequented by Rogen and rest of the filmmaking talent involved. I do applaud Producer Judd Apatow and company for creating original comedies instead of churning out “The 40 Year Old Virgin 2 & 3.” I hope the quality of their next effort, a Jesus-era comedy called “Year One,” is up to par and not a “Life of Brian” rehash.

I found most of it funny enough to recommend, but no stoner comedy will ever be great. They are geared to a narrow audience eliminating kids, families, mature movie goers, and anyone who dislikes drug-culture comedies. Most of the major 2008 summer comedies are rated-R and aim to offend in one form or another. I predict “Tropic Thunder” will top “Pineapple Express” in appeal, offense and box office numbers. As it stands you have a lot of choices. Pick your poison and enjoy for the end of the summer season approaches fast.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars

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