August 7, 2008

‘Express’ a Summer Hit

By Phil Villarreal, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Aug. 7--Seth Rogen may be the hottest talent in comedy, but in "The Pineapple Express" he's not even the funniest in the movie.

He runs a close second to James Franco, as slack-jawed pot dealer Saul. Franco is Cheech, Chong and Dave Chappelle in "Half Baked," rolled into a joint so comically intoxicating it could be outlawed.

"Pineapple Express," named for the super-strain of marijuana Saul and pal Dale (Rogen) smoke, flows with a rhythm similar to last year's "Superbad," which was also written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg and produced by Judd Apatow.

There is little plot; there's hardly any room for one because there are too many laughs.

Dale witnesses a murder. He and Saul spend the rest of the film on the run from a drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a dirty cop (Rosie Perez).

It's Franco, however, who does the killing. No sentence, gesture or expression of Franco's is anything short of genius in this high-caliber comedy.

His guffaws at reruns of "The Jeffersons" are funnier than the jokes he's laughing at, and his mouth is a quip-dispensing machine for random non sequiturs (he wonders aloud whether his enemies will send barracudas after him). He's also proud to display a, let's say, unique hitchhiking pose.

Saul, who holds down a job as a process server, is clearly the more upstanding of the two pals, but you'd hardly call a guy who dates a high school girl (Amber Heard) a role model.

Like a good basketball point guard, Rogen enhances his teammate's skill by constantly setting him up for crowd-wowing moves. His offhand reactions and seemingly ad-libbed evaluations of Saul's stupor are gems in their own right. Rogen knows this is Franco's movie and doesn't try to out-crazy his partner.

Turning toward action cliches, the filmmakers unleash the same silly brilliance that affixed the name McLovin to a fake ID in "Superbad." With arguably the two funniest summer comedies in the last two years, this brain trust has got a nice thing going (Apatow and Rogen also made "Knocked Up"), and the group will get together next for "The Green Hornet" in 2010.

When two idiots get involved in car chases, fist fights or kicking down of doors, and those idiots base their ideas of what to do on movies they half-watched while toking up, the results are funny enough to make a hardened movie critic fall forward and spit on people sitting in front of him.

Villains in comedies are almost always forgettable straight roles, but Cole as the drug lord and Perez as the officer -- "what an adorable little cop," Saul calls her -- hold their own amid the Franco-Rogen hurricane, crafting a disturbing yet disarming romantic attachment.

Dale and Saul are occasionally joined by Red (Danny R. McBride), a gun-toting pothead who is nearly their equal in stupid pseudo-masculinity. Sticking to the "Superbad" formula, Red is the eternally trampled-upon third wheel.

If you've ever chuckled at a pot comedy, you have no choice but to get out and see this one. Franco and Rogen light it up in every sense of the expression.


Pineapple Express


--Rated: R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence.

--Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny R. McBride, Rosie Perez, Amber Heard.

--Director: David Gordon Green.

--Family call: Not for kids.

--Running time: 111 minutes.


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