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‘Pineapple Express’ a Well-Paced, Pot-Driven Plot

August 6, 2008

By Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News

Aug. 6–I TALKED to a director the other day who was a bit miffed that I referred to his movie as being under “the Apatow umbrella.”

No offense intended. I was merely noting that as a producer, Judd Apatow has a knack for assembling diverse talent in a way that generates comedies of a consistent tone, and there’s no better example of this than the pothead laugher “Pineapple Express.”

It’s directed by David Gordon Green, an indie auteur noted for mannered, rural, often gothic dramas that are almost scrupulously humorless.

It co-stars James Franco, a brooding hunk from Hollywood’s James Dean assembly line whose funniest role to date has been the lead in “Tristan and Isolde.”

Based on these credits, I’d have bet against this movie containing a single laugh, but it’s full of them, and that has to be a tribute to Apatow’s eye for untapped comic potential.

Turns out, Green’s artistic ambition isn’t to win the Palm d’Or but to make an action-comedy tribute to his favorite ’80s buddy movie, “Tango and Cash.”

And Franco has been eager to let his hair down (literally). Here he drops the pouty pose and picks up a bong to deliver the best serious-actor-goes-stoner performance since Sean Penn played Jeff Spicoli.

Franco plays a drug dealer named Saul who’s doling out special samples of a potent pot (Pineapple Express) to valued customers such as Dale (Seth Rogan), a process server.

Dale is good and high and on a stakeout when he witnesses a gangland murder, clumsily leaving the scene with the perpetrators in hot pursuit. He escapes but leaves behind his stash, the rare and distinctive Pineapple Express, a marker that will lead directly back to best “bud” Saul.

So on the road they go, a regular Dope and Crosby, avoiding capture and murder via a combination of intoxication and stupidity that insulates them from the kind of logic that would make them traceable.

The story is designed to meander, but Green keeps the pace strong, building to an extended slapstick finale in which the fat, wheezing Dale and strung-out Saul make an improbable last stand against various mob factions.

Again, the two make a virtue of being incompetent, prevailing in deceptively sloppy fight scenes that are actually carefully choreographed by stunt vets.

Rogan is his usual self here, but Franco is a revelation, showing an unexpected knack for spaced-out comedy the way Matt Dillon did in “Drugstore Cowboy.”

In Apatow movies, you earn screen time by being funny, and supporting player Danny McBride worms his way into the movie as a third amigo, in tune with the movie’s action-spoof spirit. In a running joke, he turns out to be harder to kill than Steven Seagal.

Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, directed by David Gordon Green, written by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, music by Graeme Revell, distributed by Sony Pictures.

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