September 14, 2008

Is It a Fruit? Is It a Train? No, It’s Wacky Baccy to Die For

By Nicholas Barber

Film 2 Pineapple Express David Gordon Green 111 MINS, 15 The Women Diane English 114 MINS, 12A Eden Lake James Watkins 90 MINS, 18 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Mark Herman 94 MINS, 12A

Do we really need another comedy produced by Judd Apatow this year?

Probably not, but Pineapple Express is the best of them, and it could be the year's best comedy, full stop. It still has the semi- improvised, man-childish banter you'd expect from the Judd Squad; the difference is that it also has a thriller plot, giving it a momentum that wasn't there in Step Brothers or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Some stricter editing would have helped, just as it would help all of Apatow's films, but in this instance you'd only chop out about 10 minutes, which is 10 fewer than usual.

The film was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who also scripted Superbad and Drillbit Taylor. It stars Rogen as a Los Angeles stoner who witnesses a gangland shooting. Realising that the wacky baccy he dropped at the scene could identify him, he goes on the run with his pot dealer, an effortlessly affable James Franco. The film harks back to the mismatched-buddy movies of the 1980s, except that the heroes are far more bumbling than Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson ever were, and therefore more endearing. The gloriously clumsy fight scenes and car chases are as funny as the dialogue, and the dialogue is as sparky as anything the Judd Squad has come up with. "Pineapple Express", we're told, is a marijuana strain so rare "that it's almost a shame to smoke it. It's like killing a unicorn".

One thing we definitely don't need this year is another comedy about four middle-aged, well-to-do, cocktail-swigging Manhattan fashionistas, but here it is anyway - a film that is, officially, a remake of the 1939 classic, but which is actually so similar to Sex And The City that you'll spit out your Cosmopolitan whenever you hear Annette Bening's uncanny Kim Cattrall impersonation. The other shallow, hysterical characters are played by Meg Ryan, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith, with Eva Mendes as the shop girl who lures away Ryan's Wall Street husband. But while the cast is, arguably, as stellar as Sarah Jessica Parker and co, everything else is as cut- price and fake as counterfeit Jimmy Choos. If The Women represents women, then I'm a born-again misogynist. The worst thing is that the film was co-financed by Dove, the soap company, and the end credits conclude with the stars waffling on about Dove's "campaign for real beauty". Ryan has had her face altered so drastically since When Harry Met Sally that real beauty isn't something she's qualified to discuss.

Eden Lake and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas are two very different films from British writer-directors, but they both throw up the same worrisome questions. The former is a chav-sploitation horror movie starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a pair of loved-up Londoners who go camping in the woods, where they're set upon by some authentically obnoxious hooligans, including Thomas Turgoose. The latter film is a child's-eye view of the Holocaust, in which an eight-year-old SS commandant's son befriends a concentration camp internee, without understanding the plight of the boy on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

Eden Lake is unpleasantly gory, rather than frightening, but it's an effective survival thriller, just as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a well-constructed, honourable fable, adapted from John Boyne's award-winning children's novel. Both films have powerfully bleak endings that raise them to a new level. But they both leave you asking whether a solid genre movie is enough to do justice to the serious subject matter. Considering that one film is about genocide, is its shiny, fairy-tale surface appropriate? And considering that today's headlines are splattered with adolescent knife crimes, should anyone be translating those headlines into a scaremongering shocker?

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