Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express (2008) is a stoner comedy/thriller several notches above the usual level of such films. Although there is much dope smoking, and many jokes and humor centered on dope (nothing is more tiring than two dopers rejoicing in the glories of weed), there is also a plot, a disturbing fusion of the comic and the horrific, and an array of wildly whacky characters—many of whom come to gruesome ends.

The film was co-written by Seth Rogen (one of the main actors) and Judd Apatow, who also produced the film. The illogicalities and plot holes that one finds in other Apatow films, such as Super Bad (2007) and Knocked Up (2007), where they don't matter much, do matter here. But there are numerous comic moments too—a raucous and hilarious fight in an apartment; the two main characters, doped-up (there are few moments in the film when they aren't), stumbling terror-stricken through the woods when something that we never sees frightens them; a dinner gone wrong at the home of the 18-year-old girlfriend of Rogen's character; two hit men who run as much against type as one can imagine; and so on—and together they make a highly amusing but pointless film. With its counter-intuitive fusion of comedy and grim violence it reminded me of True Romance (1993) and especially of Martin Scorcese's 1985 After Hours.

The main character is a process server, Dale Denton. He spends his life smoking dope and donning various disguises in order to serve subpoenas on people who have been trying to avoid them. He buys his weed from Saul (James Franco), who sits in his apartment all day watching TV and selling product. Saul offers Dale a sample of the best weed in LA; it's called "Pineapple Express." Dale gladly accepts and goes off to serve a subpoena on a man named Ted Jones (Gary Cole), who turns out to be the drug kingpin who gave Saul an exclusive on the Pineapple Express. When Dale accidentally sees Jones and a policeman (Rosie Perez) murder a member of a rival drug gang, he is horrified. He throws down the joint he is smoking and drives straight to Saul's apartment. Jones finds the joint, recognizes the brand of weed, and sends henchmen to kill Dale and Saul. In the meantime, Dale and Saul have figured out that Jones will be looking for them (how they figure out anything in their dope-addled states is unclear).

So the film is basically about Saul and Dale's attempts to elude the hit men and outwit Ted Jones. There are numerous diversions and side jaunts. There is an ongoing rivalry between competing drug gangs (one of them features Ninjas). Saul wants to be a civil engineer, but he sells drugs so his grandmother can live in a comfortable retirement home. And of course there is Dale's relationship with an 18-year-old high school student. Most of all, this is a buddy film in which the two main characters ultimately come to terms with the fact that they like and need each other. It's also a film about Dale's gradual recognition that he needs to grow up and stop smoking dope—but whether this ever happens is unclear. I was disappointed that Dale's recognition that he needs to sober up is in the film. Why? It seems almost a gratuitous acknowledgement by the filmmakers that their film is immature and addled, that their values are really down home and middle class, not drug culture values. Let me leave no doubt—the film IS immature and addled, and you can enjoy it on that level. To insert the possibility of adulthood and redemption is to create a film that doesn't have the strength of its profoundly deviant convictions.

David Gordon Greene directed this film—the director of four promising but commercially unsuccessful films including George Washington (2000), All the Real Girls (2003), Undertow (2004), and Snow Angels (2007)—one imagines that he realized he had to participate in some money-making ventures to be able to keep making the kinds of films he wants to make—Pineapple Express did make money. Greene's expertise is evident in a number of scenes, especially in pacing, characterization, and cinematography. Despite the virtues of Pineapple Express, one hopes that
Greene will not have to make this kind of film often.

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