by Jason Coffman
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On paper, Pineapple Express sounds like an iffy proposition: a Judd Apatow-produced stoner action comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco and directed by David Gordon Green. David Gordon Green, as in the George Washington David Gordon Green. It’s a weird, unexpected choice of directors, a huge gamble, but it absolutely works. With a great cast and excellent writing, Pineapple Express continually flirts with and subverts action comedy clichés and is all the better for it. It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen this year.
Seth Rogen plays Dale Denton, a perpetually-stoned Process Server dating Angie (Amber Heard), a high-school senior. Angie is pressing for Dale to meet her parents, but Dale is unsurprisingly commitment-phobic, more interested in dreaming of being a talk radio host and trying not to spend too much time with his pot dealer Saul (James Franco). One night while waiting to serve papers, Dale sees his target Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and female police officer Carol (Rosie Perez) execute a man in front of a picture window. Panicked, Dale runs to the only person he can think of who might be able to help: Saul.
Ted and Carol think that Denton and Saul are working for a rival Asian gang, and so send a couple of thugs (Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan) to track them down. The film plays out in a series of hilarious and unexpected scenes, including a nature walk with Dale and Saul and some truly ingenious dialogue between the two thugs chasing them down. In a film about mostly despicable characters, just about everyone is actually very likeable. This is no doubt due to Green’s loose direction, allowing for a lot of great character moments for which a standard action comedy wouldn’t have time.
The fact that the cast is fantastic across the board also helps. Rogen and Franco have great comic chemistry together, reunited on-screen for the first time since Freaks and Geeks. Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan are both great as longtime coworkers who seem to be getting tired of each other rather than falling into a comfortable routine, and Gary Cole is amazing but (as usual) doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Danny R. McBride deserves special mention as Red, Saul’s drug supplier and the link between him and Jones. Hell, even Rosie Perez is watchable in this film!
The action scenes follow the dialogue scenes: generally, these are not characters who are used to dealing with car chases and guns, and they mostly act like it. They’re clumsy and awkward, and they often tend to hurt themselves more than anyone else. The violence is mostly kept at action-comedy remove, except for a few bits where some graphic effects are played for slapstick. For the most part, though, the violence is about on par with the ’80s buddy comedies the film is clearly emulating and paying tribute. A few scenes end with freeze-frames and wipes that are perfectly complemented by the ’70s-inspired electronics in the score by Grame Revell.
And so, even though Pineapple Express might seem like a strange proposal on paper, the finished product is one of the best major-studio films of the year. God only knows what Apatow and company might come up with next, but if they’re willing to gamble to come up with something this great, I know I’ll be looking forward to it.
Jason Coffman is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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