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Stoner Buddies Stumble into Trouble in Comedy Directed By NCSA Alumnus

August 7, 2008

By Tim Clodfelter, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

Aug. 7–TWO CREATIVE FORCES — David Gordon Green, a director who’s an alumnus of the N.C. School of the Arts, and Judd Apatow, a producer responsible for some of the best comedies of the past few years — join forces in Pineapple Express, a lively action-comedy about slackers on the run.

Seth Rogen and James Franco, who played stoner buddies in the terrific high-school comedy-drama Freaks & Geeks (on which Apatow was an executive producer), star in the film. Rogen also co-wrote Express, though much of the film was improvised on the set.

Rogen plays Dale Denton, a process server who sneaks up on people to serve them subpoenas by donning various disguises (a talent that, surprisingly, doesn’t get much play in the film). He has never let himself grow up, but remains a scruffy, unkempt wreck who keeps mellow by smoking pot between jobs. Franco plays Saul Silver, a slovenly drug dealer who is Dale’s source and lives in a squalid apartment with a TV set blaring sitcom reruns.

They run afoul of the local crime boss, Ted Jones (Gary Cole), who is in the midst of a war with Asian mobsters. Mistaken for part of the turf war, they wind up on the lam, chased by two killers (Kevin Corrigan of Grounded for Life and Craig Robinson of The Office, both veterans of previous Apatow productions) and by a corrupt cop, Officer Brazier (Rosie Perez).

The movie has plenty of funny character interactions and stream-of-consciousness — or, in Saul’s case, stream-of-barely-conscious — conversations. The situations Dale and Saul get into become increasingly absurd, culminating in one of the film’s highlights, a lengthy car chase with dimwitted Saul making all the wrong moves as he tries to evade Brazier.

The action scenes include some amusingly clumsy fight scenes, as characters who aren’t action heroes try to conform to the cliches of movie action and come up short. There’s also a surprising amount of bloodshed, gross-out humor, and plenty of slapstick — and, of course, that Apatow favorite, the socially awkward moments that cause the audience to laugh and cringe at the same time.

At its heart, the movie is less a pot comedy than it is a “bro-mance,” focusing on the friendship between Dale and Saul as they go from dealer-and-client to best buds.

The supporting cast includes such familiar faces as Ed Begley Jr., James Remar and Saturday Night Live veterans Nora Dunn and Bill Hader. But perhaps the funniest performance in the film comes from NCSA alumnus Danny R. McBride, who plays Red, the middleman between Saul and Ted Jones. He is an incompetent yet infinitely confident low-level crook who proves to be as durable as Wile E. Coyote and as eccentric as Napoleon Dynamite.

The film doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best of the Apatow-produced films, such as Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but Green’s skill with characterization and the talented cast help make it more than just another stoner comedy.

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