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"PINEAPPLE EXPRESS"
(2008) (Seth Rogen, James Franco) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A process server goes on the run with his stoned drug dealer when the former witnesses a murder and correctly believes the responsible drug lord will send his goons after them.
PLOT:
Dale Denton (SETH ROGEN) is a thirty-something process server who delivers subpoenas and such to all sorts of people, but most of all enjoys getting high when not hanging out with his high school aged girlfriend, Angie (AMBER HEARD). Accordingly, he often visits his drug dealer, Saul Silver (JAMES FRANCO), for his latest round of marijuana.

Saul's habitually stoned and thus not always quite there mentally, but he wants to be friends with Dale and thus lets him try a super strong variety of weed known as Pineapple Express. Dale agrees it's good, thanks him for that and his regular stash, and heads out for his next job.

It's then that he witnesses Ted Jones (GARY COLE), who turns out to be a huge drug kingpin, and crooked cop Carol (ROSIE PEREZ) murder a man. Dale panics, ends up making too much noise fleeing the scene, and drops his joint. The latter turns out to be a bad move since Ted immediately identifies the variety as Pineapple Express, which is unique to him. Dale has figured that out as well, and thus takes Saul with him to meet the latter's pot supplier, Red (DANNY R. McBRIDE), a two-bit weasel who will do or say anything to save his own hide.

When Ted's goons Budlofsky (KEVIN CORRIGAN) and Matheson (CRAIG ROBINSON) come knocking, Red immediately fingers Dale and Saul. With Ted then believing that Dale is some sort of hitman working for his Asian drug rivals, he puts the pressure on his goons to eradicate his problem. From that point on, Dale and Saul try to figure out what to do, a decision clouded by one or both of them often being high.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Yes, we know all about the nothing's guaranteed but taxes and death bit, but sometimes you just expect certain things to possess what they're supposed to. Take movies, for instance, where certain genres should deliver the goods in their respective corners of the biz. Horror movies should be scary, romantic comedies should deliver love and laughs, and costume dramas should be pretty and stuffy, or pretty stuffy if that floats your boat.

While there aren't a plethora of titles in its little genre niche, fans of stoner comedies similar anticipate certain things. For starters, there obviously need to be drugs, those who take them, and the stupid or goofy things they consequently say and/or do. Plot usually isn't that important, but is present upon which to hang all of the drug jokes which leads to the biggest expectation -- that such films should be funny, especially for those under the influence or who fondly remember being in such a state in their past.

Accordingly, one expects the likes of Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar depending on one's generation. What one doesn't usually associate with such pics is charming characters, humor that non-stoners can appreciate, over-the-top and fairly blackened, pedal-to-the-metal action (sometimes found in drug dramas, but usually not these sorts of comedies) or, more strikingly, a director normally associated with critically acclaimed, but little seen art house fair.

Yet, all of that comes together, albeit not perfectly, but certainly better than expected in "Pineapple Express." It's the tale of a stoned process server (Seth Rogen) and his equally stoned dealer (James Franco) who go on the run after witnessing a murder committed by a drug lord (Gary Cole) and his crooked cop lover (Rosie Perez). Throw in a seemingly indestructible, if weasel-like mid-level dealer (Danny R. McBride) and two goons (Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan) and the stage is set for a decidedly adult comedy that actually delivers the goods.

For starters, it gets its charm quotient from the Judd Apatow effect, with that multi-talent threat producing, while Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who also penned Apatow's "Superbad") are behind the keyboard. They obviously have a knack for creating unsavory and/or loveable loser characters that grow on you, and that trend continues here.

The action -- and there's a surprising amount here in terms of guns, explosions and killing -- arrives courtesy of cinematographer Tim Orr and stunt coordinator Gary Hymes. While it's purposefully over the top, it's actually handled quite well, with the black comedy tint to all of that mayhem (mainly in the form of how people "bite the big one") making it go down a bit easier.

What's most surprising, however, is that David Gordon Green was chosen and agreed to direct this flick. Beyond existing in a much larger scale than he's accustomed to working with, the material is decidedly different than the usual art house doings found in the like of this year's "Snow Angels" or past artsy flicks such as "Undertow," "All the Real Girls" and "George Washington."

When I first heard of his pairing with the film, all I could ponder was what he as well as the studio were thinking with the arrangement. The fit, however, is surprisingly comfortable, although purists might hate the idea that their beloved auteur might have gone over to the "dark side" for good, having tasted what's sure to be a moderate to maybe even big commercial success.

What really sells the work, however, are the performances. Apatow regular Rogen is clearly coming into his own as a comedic lead, and while the part here isn't particularly demanding, he's quite good in it. Probably to most everyone's shock, however, he's constantly upstaged by his co-star, James Franco. I'll admit I wasn't excited about that particular casting, and still think everyone should have given up playing a stoned stoner long ago after Sean Penn delivered the ultimate performance as such back in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

While not as memorable as Mr. Spicoli, Franco's take on such a character is spot on, and he ends up stealing both the spotlight and best laughs from Rogen. That said, both get a serious run for their money from Danny R. McBride as the weasel who puts the Timex watch powered by the Energizer Bunny to shame in terms of continuing to go and go after taking a licking (and then some). The fabulous Gary Cole is less successful mainly due to the way his character is written (too serious), which is even more true for Rosie Perez as a bad cop.

Considering all of the adult material in the flick, it's certainly not for kids or those sensitive to four-letter words, drug use, and violence. But its over-the-top, exaggerated nature and the fact that it and its characters end up growing on you makes it something of a surprise. Delivering what it's supposed to for its genre and then some, "Pineapple Express" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed July 21, 2008 / Posted August 6, 2008


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