I’d like to report that “Pineapple Express,” the latest product of Judd Apatow’s comedy factory which is available this week on DVD, is a move forward from last year’s hits “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” Alas, the move is downward, even though stars Seth Rogen and James Franco do their sometimes frantic best to breathe some energy into what bills itself as an “action” comedy.
Oh, there are lots of car chases, shootings, fist fights, pratfalls, ands explosions, director David Gordon Green throwing all the clichs of the genre at the target audience—college-age males—along with plenty of scenes where the actors are stoned. The first of these, a wonderful sendup of 1930’s warning flicks like “Reefer Madness,” is extremely promising. Apatow veteran Bill Hader, playing an Army private exposed to the unknown dangers of “Item Nine” (aka marijuana) in a military experiment, tells the brass exactly what he thinks of them in a brilliant cameo.
Unhappily, it’s the movie’s best moment. When Green cuts from its black and white parody to the full color story of process server Dale Denton (Rogen), the imagination of the script Rogen co-wrote with Evan Goldberg starts to flag seriously. It picks up when the second lead, Dale’s pot connection, Saul (Franco), is introduced. As an avid consumer of his own product, Saul is so laid back and charming that even the already-behind-schedule Dale takes a long smoke break with him. Part of the draw is Pineapple Express, some amazingly potent dope that Saul has exclusive rights to.
The stuff turns out to be the rub, though. Dale drops a roach near the scene of a murder he witnesses. Its discovery involves him with a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and her drug dealer lover (Gary Cole), who are themselves caught up in a drug war with a Chinese mob. Dale and Saul get caught in the middle of the turf tangle, which spreads to involve Dale’s teenage girl friend (Amber Heard) and her volatile father (Ed Begley, Jr.), supplying one more plot thread to untangle.
But it’s not really worth the effort. This product badly needs cutting to maintain its impact, but Green lets scenes run on well past their comic effectiveness. The violence and killing—always problematic in comedy—get way out of hand, dealing the humor a death blow. Another stoner/dealer character brought in for laughs and more “buddy movie” effect (Danny R. McBride) is initially funny but gets way too much screen time.
On the strength of “Knocked Up,” I was prepared to and wanted to like the theatrical release of “Pineapple Express,” which enjoyed solid reviews and did pretty good business good business. But even the young folks in the rows around me in the theater could feel how forced it is, after the initial impetus wears off. Most adults watching the DVD at home will likely not even savor that first rush.
The movie is properly rated “R” for language and pervasive violence.