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‘Pineapple Express’ Serves Emo Action

August 6, 2008

By Craig D. Lindsey, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Aug. 6–For a movie where the gags are mostly delivered through a waft of weed smoke, and blood and bullets are just as liberally sprayed throughout, “Pineapple Express” has to be the most emo action-comedy I’ve ever seen. I kept expecting tunes from Sunny Day Real Estate and Dashboard Confessional to start playing during the shootouts.

“Express” — also known as this week’s Judd Apatow movie — works on a more highly sensitive scale than other action flicks. Emotions run high, for the heroes and the villains. Nearly everyone attempts to think with his head, but their hearts keep getting in the way.

That’s what happens with Dale Denton (Seth Rogen), a much-loathed process server who makes his existence tolerable by smoking down to and from every serving, courtesy of the kind bud he gets from his needy, kindhearted dealer Saul (James Franco).

One night he sees his latest servee, drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole), along with the crooked cop (Rosie Perez) on his take, rub out a rival drug cartel member. After making a very noisy, not so hasty retreat, he heads back to Saul’s crib and tells him they have to hit the road, especially since he left a roach on the scene containing the rare ganja that Jones could trace back to Dale and Saul.

While “Express” is as aimlessly, lazily paced as its two blunted protagonists, what is funny — and ultimately subversive — is how it’s a confident actioner filled with not-so-confident characters.

Chaos rules

A more routine action flick would have the good guys meticulously, assuredly intent on taking down the diabolical bad guys. But both the good and bad guys act like such frazzled, confused ninnies (a more accurate title for this flick would be “Dangerous Dummies with Guns”), the results are more chaotic than cocksure.

Although “Express” doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s a comedy that shows how absurd — and hazardous — action-movie tropes are when you apply them to the real world.

Saul and Dale work their brains overtime (high as a mink coat all the time), trying to stay ahead of the baddies, using ideas they most likely picked up in action movies.

But they often end up doing more harm to each other before they ever come into contact with their enemies.

When they go to the home of Saul’s weed supplier (Danny McBride) and learn that he is ready to sell them out to Jones, all three become embroiled in an insane property-decimating brawl that does something I’ve rarely seen in a movie fight sequence: highlight the horrendous, hilarious messiness that comes with throwing blows.

During this scene, I couldn’t help thinking of Matt Damon’s home-invading, rolled-up-magazine-wielding takedown of Marton Csonkas in “The Bourne Supremacy” and how neat, tidy and embarrassingly preposterous that was.

While the movie is an Apatow production, you can mostly thank director David Gordon Green for the inspired moments of pulpy lunacy. The Steven Seagal fan indulges in the ’80s-style irrationally violent cliches that have entertained him and other trashy-action fans like him.

Since the screenplay is written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who wrote last year’s “Superbad,” themes of male immaturity and brotherly love once again rear their neurotic, slightly homoerotic heads.

Like nearly every character Rogen has played, Dale is a guy not ready for responsible adulthood. He’s got a teenage girlfriend (Amber Heard), and she’s more mature than he is. (Once again in an Apatow movie, the female characters appear to be the only ones with their stuff together.)

When he goes on the lam, he almost treats it more like the ultimate guy thrill ride than a nightmarish situation. But he also uses his running time to reluctantly bond with drug dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold Saul, whom the usually dense Franco plays with laid-back, Owen Wilson-style likability.

Even in a crazed, comic, cannabis-covered shoot-’em-up like “Pineapple Express,” the central message is always prevalent.

And that is, you ask?

Why, it’s bros before foes, dude. Bros before foes.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, (919) 829-4760 or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle

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