Our current entry, Pineapple Express, is more of the blow-'em-up, slap-happy same. Forget its similarities to earlier summer fare. This is one of two action films this month with mammoth, John Woo-movie-like explosions in parody form; next week's Tropic Thunder is the other. It is also the second movie this week in which a major plot point is an older man's promise to meet with his student girlfriend's parents. (Cf. Elegy, a romantic drama that has nothing else in common with Pineapple Express.) Finally, it's the third picture this summer, and the eighth in the past 14 months, that was produced, written or otherwise perpetrated by Apatow. Take a deep breath: Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard, Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, You Don't Mess With the Zohan, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express.
The actual inexhaustible force behind the new movie is Seth Rogen, the 26-year-old comedy prodigy (in a 45-year-old accountant's body) who has starred in Knocked Up, Superbad and Pineapple Express; co-wrote the last two, plus Drillbit Taylor, with his longtime pal Evan Goldberg, as well as co-producing them; and, presumably on weekends, provided voices for the animated films Horton Hears a Who and Kung Fu Panda and for the Hogsqueal character in The Spiderwick Chronicles. The characters he plays may be slackers, but in real life this guy is organized.
Working from Apatow's notion to graft an action-movie plot on a dope-movie premise, Rogen and Goldberg came up with a concoction that synthesizes the standard thrills of the first genre while exceeding the usual humor quotient of the second. Granted, that's not the toughest job, and Pineapple Express aims for nothing more than rowdy fun. Still, director David Gordon Green who has made some terrific indie movies about isolated youths (George Washington, Snow Angels) and probably took this job cause he wanted to make a movie more than a handful of people would see mixes all the ingredients to create a comedy that brings a nicely deflating note of realism to action-film mayhem, as well as being one of the few drug movies you don't have to be high to enjoy.
Rogen is Dale Denton, who works as a process server and plays at being the wise older beau to high-school senior Angie (Amber Heard). But his vocation is dope-smoking, which makes his dealer, Saul (James Franco), if not Dale's best friend then surely his most trusted business acquaintance. It's after a visit to Saul for some amazing weed known as Pineapple Express that Dale parks outside the home of his next subpoena victim, Ted Jones (Gary Cole). BLAM! go some guns, SPLAT! goes the body of an Asian man against the second-floor window, and CRUNCH! ZOOM! goes Dale's car in escape mode. (CRUNCH! because he's smashed two adjacent vehicles trying to make his getaway.) In his panic he dropped the marijuana cigarette he was toking evidence that sends Ted and his gang tearing after Saul. The rest of the picture is a bunch of knowing, giggly riffs on action clichés in the hundreds of movies spawned by Lethal Weapon.
The gag here is that the two heroes engaged in the movie's requisite action scenes the hand-to-hand combat, the car chase, the climactic military-style battle ending in a giant explosion are klutzy boobs. Dale and Saul have the need and instinct to fight, drive and run, but none of the skills. One sequence, the movie's lamest, is either a demonstration of this theory or an undercutting commentary on it. As they stagger through the woods searching for a cell phone Saul has tossed away, Rogen and Franco take a stab at a slapstick routine but possess neither the precision nor the physical resilience to make it funny. (Nor the luck: Franco needed three stitches after he bumped into a tree.) The actors flounder like two Stooges in desperate need of a third.