August 6, 2008

‘Pineapple Express’ Has Its High Points

By Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Aug. 6--"Pot makes bad movies better," says the leading man of "Pineapple Express," extolling the virtues of the weed named in the title. I'd never encourage anyone to commit an illegal act, but I did wonder whether the film would've been consistently hilarious if I'd gotten red-eyed before I watched.

Not that it's bad, really. It's just another first-draft comedy by the Judd Apatow movie-a-month factory, written in the usual slapdash fashion by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg from a story by Apatow, who produced. (He's written or produced six movies released over the last nine months.)

Rogen stars as Dale, a process server who sees a drug dealer (Gary Cole) and a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) whack a member of an Asian gang that's stealing their clientele. Dale goes on the run with Saul (James Franco), a dealer who sees him as a new BFF. Between the good and bad guys stands Saul's supplier, Red (Danny McBride), whose skin is in jeopardy if he helps Saul.

The movie's a crazy quilt of pot jokes, sarcastic put-downs and pop culture references both obvious and obscure. ("They messed with the wrong melon farmers," crows newly armed Dale, ready to hit back at the hit men. That's a nod to Charles Bronson in the 1974 movie "Mr. Majestyk.")

The film climaxes in a surprising amount of carnage without tying up loose ends, as if the filmmakers lost interest in the details and said, "Let's just solve problems by blowing everything up." The multiple killings are too grim to be funny yet too silly to have emotional effects on the leads or us.

Franco and Rogen both had breakout roles on Apatow's series "Freaks and Geeks," and they have a warm, lazy chemistry. Rogen does the stumblebum shtick that's already getting old, but Franco liberates himself from the soulful roles that have weighed him down.

Directors are almost irrelevant to Apatow's films, which all sound and look about the same. This one happens to be N.C. School of the Arts grad David Gordon Green, liberated from his typical mopey navel-gazing by bullets, banter and blunts. I once wished he'd stop writing his own films and adapt a first-rate script by someone else. I'm still wishing.


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