The latest Apatow production is Pineapple Express, a stoner action comedy starring Freaks & Geeks alumni Seth Rogen and James Franco. For those who don’t know what Freaks & Geeks is, find out and watch it. It was how these guys got their start, discovered by Judd Apatow himself. It’s great to see Rogen and Franco on screen together again, and it’s especially great to see Franco doing comedy again. Rogen wrote the script alongside his childhood best friend Evan Goldberg, with whom he wrote Superbad. The story follows Dale Denton (Rogen) and his drug dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) on the run from some very bad people including a drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a corrupt lady cop (Rosie Perez). Dale witnessed a murder and left his “Pineapple Express” joint he purchased from Saul at the scene. Ted Jones, the drug kingpin, discovers the joint, identifies it as the rare Pineapple Express which only Saul Silver sells and the chase begins.
From start to finish this movie is very fun, hilarious and even a bit sweet. The story of the budding relationship between drug dealer and buyer here is sincere. We see them go from virtual strangers to best friends, and it’s very believable. The characters are also quite endearing. Saul is obviously very lonely and spends his time in his apartment watching TV, when Dale initially comes over just to buy some weed, Saul tries to get him to stay to hang out. Franco gives one of the better performances of the year by completely sinking into the character and making him a sympathetic, lovable person. Quite simply, James Franco is the best part of Pineapple Express. Dale is a 25 year-old process server who is in a relationship with a high school senior. Early on, we see him visit Angie (a very well acted small part by Amber Heard) in between classes. Interrupting their conversation is a high school jock who seems to have the hots for Angie, making Dale very uncomfortable. Dale is obviously insecure and Rogen brings a really sweet quality to his character instead of making him seem pathetic. Seth Rogen isn’t exactly a method actor, but for what he does, he may be the best. When it comes to line delivery, improv and just the right amount of realism, Rogen is the man. The comedic chemistry between these two actors is undeniably awesome. A comic duo for the ages that hopefully will be reunited again.
The supporting cast is very good, but I don’t see what the big deal is about Danny McBride. He plays Red, a middleman between Saul and Ted, who has to decide whether to sell out his friend or join him. Now, the character is kind of funny and he gets some great lines, but whenever he showed up in the movie, I kind of wish he didn’t so we could have more Rogen on Franco only action. Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan are great and make their two characters, a pair of hit men after our heroes, more interesting than one might expect. Bill Hader pops up (when doesn’t he?) as well. The film opens with a black & white flashback to when the US government was first testing marijuana. Hader is very funny as the guy who gets to test the weed.
The screenplay here is not as solid or laugh heavy as Goldberg and Rogen’s Superbad, but it does deliver. However, there are some disappointing, major flaws. First of all, the movie works best when it’s somewhat grounded in realism. I’m not saying get rid of the action or car chases, but a specific scene comes to mind. There’s a point where Dale goes to Angie’s house to have dinner with her family. It goes about as bad as possible, as the parents figure out Dale is stoned. What doesn’t work, is the dad gets furious and grabs his gun, and fires it at Dale, seemingly trying to kill him. This bizarre act is so over the top I was taken right out of the movie. Before that point in the film, my subconscious was dreaming of handing out another perfect score to the Apatow clan. The next flaw is a scary one as it is a sign of weak writing. The wonderful subplot that is the love story of Dale and Angie is left unfinished. One of the best parts of the whole movie is a phone call between the two of them, but it ends up being the last we hear of that storyline. It’s an unforgivable lazy mistake to leave that open-ended, especially when one more scene would have been enough and it could have been one of the more affecting moments of Pineapple Express. Luckily, this movie has more successes than shortcomings so we can try and forget the bad, but no one can claim this movie is perfect.
Uber-talented indie director David Gordon Green made an unexpected career move by signing on to do this film. Thank the heavens he did, because he was the perfect choice for Pineapple Express. He has a real eye for comedy and brings the film up a level of credibility and quality. He and director of photography Tim Orr made this movie look beautiful and even sophisticated. Whether it’s Dale trying to drive out of a tight parking spot, or Saul doing the worm, it all looks a little better than it should. It’s a rare occurrence having such an artistic director do this, but I hope to see it again. I also hope that the mainstream exposure will help Green be noticed as one of the better directors working today.
Pineapple Express is not on the level of the Apatow classics (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) but it’s still better than nearly all else in the world of comedies today. It is a lot of fun, with memorable lead performances and a little heart and sincerity which helps make it one of the best comedies of the year.