by Matt Wedge
Film Monthly Home
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Let’s just get the disclaimer out of the way before we get any further into this review: If you have any kind of a moral or legal objection to the use of marijuana, this movie is not for you. But if you can get past that hurtle, there are a lot of laughs to be had with the film.
It’s been eight years since the brilliant Freaks and Geeks was unceremoniously canceled. I suppose it was that distance of time that caused me to forget just how funny and charming James Franco (the Spider-Man franchise) was on that show. Pineapple Express brought those memories flooding back, because no mater how funny Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) is in the film (and he is reliably funny), Franco is the real reason to see it.
Rogen (who also co-wrote the script with Evan Goldberg) plays Dale, another of his patented mid-20s slacker characters. Dale works as a process server, a job that allows him to indulge a mean streak by ruining the day of whoever he’s serving. He further nurses his juvenile mental state by dating an 18-year-old high school student (Amber Heard, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) and indulging heavily in his vice of choice: pot. Franco plays Saul, Dale’s pot-dealer, a goofy, good-natured guy who really wants to be friends with Dale. While Dale can tolerate Saul long enough to do business with him, he wants nothing to do with him on a personal level. But when Dale witnesses a murder committed by a drug kingpin (the sorely underused Gary Cole, Office Space) that he is supposed to be serving with a subpoena, he is forced to go on the run with Saul and is shocked to find himself befriending the perma-stoned dealer.
While Rogen is basically relegated to straight-man status, he still manages to pull off another solid comedic performance with not much more than his booming voice and an expressive face that screams every inappropriate thing he might be thinking, but only occasionally says. In a supporting role as another drug-dealer, Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way) steals every scene he’s in with a soft rural accent, a gift for physical comedy and a haircut that makes him look like the love child of Christopher Walken and Michael Richards. Of course it helps that he’s given some of the best lines in the movie and character quirks such as shaving his armpits to make himself more aerodynamic when he’s in a fight.
But it’s Franco who walks away with the film. While he has a big, goofy grin plastered on his face over much of the movie, his Saul is no idiot. His intelligence is just buried under several years of constant pot use and Franco lets that shine through in key moments that are made more touching by his sly performance. But most importantly, he manages to nail every laugh he’s asked to draw from the audience at the same time that he gives depth to what could have been a stock stoner character. When he makes the discovery that not only doesn’t Dale consider him a friend, but also something of a nuisance, he plays the heartbreak for real emotion. Consequently, the comedic moments in the wake of that moment have a hint of sadness to them that elevates the entire film above being just another Half-Baked.
While the cast gets a lot of the credit for giving their characters a bit more of a believable slant in the film, the emphasis on character undoubtedly comes from veteran indie director David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls). Seemingly the most unlikely filmmaker possible to helm this type of goofy action-comedy, he proves to be an inspired choice as he brings with him the ability to get inside the heads of even the most ridiculous of characters and understand what makes them tick.
If the film has a down side, it’s that it becomes slightly too chaotic in the final act. While the action scenes are handled well and are often very funny in the same over-the-top way as Hot Fuzz, they just go on a bit too long. While I realize this was intended as a spoof of most every Hollywood action film, the longer the joke is drawn out, it produces fewer and fewer laughs until you just want to pick up a gun and shoot the bad guys yourself, just to end the scene.
Despite the seemingly endless climax, the film scores as a laugh-out-loud comedy that, with Franco’s performance, manages to add a little bit of heart to the stoner movie genre. With a little judicious trimming of around ten minutes, they would have had a great action comedy on par with the aforementioned Hot Fuzz. As it stands now, they will have to settle for a very good action comedy that just might launch James Franco into comedic leading man status much like last summer’s Knocked Up did for Rogen.
Matt Wedge is a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
Got a problem? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org