From the moment that Saturday Night Live alumni (and Steve Coogan’s Tropic Thunder right-hand gofer) Bill Hader and all-round familiar face James Remar began to deliver the pitch-perfect overblown black & white late-30s prologue to Pineapple Express, I kinda knew that this was a movie I was going to have trouble resisting. Despite never really getting around to seeing Superbad, I have begun to warm to the comedy of Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow and the cabal of like-minded people they seem to have gathered around them over the last few years. Indeed, I kinda wish I had gotten in on the ground floor with these guys – and the show that seemed to have bought many of them together, Freaks And Geeks. That is now high on my ‘to watch’ list.
I’m sure you’ve heard the ‘stoner action comedy’ one line pitch forExpress already, and come to some sort of conclusion as to whether you could give two hoots about it. There’s no hidden depths here, but it’s a film that delivers on all three of those nouns and then some; they certainly made the movie they pitched, I’ll give ’em that – but thankfully they made it a little bit more too. Thus, it manages all of the purile pot-centric childish humour you’d expect, whilst managing to pull its head up from the bong at times and getting back on track as a proper heartfelt buddy movie.
All this is helped enormously by a supporting cast that’s simply on fire – led by a spiffing bi-polar performance from Gary Cole as Ted, the psychopathic pot numero uno, almost matching up to his brilliant turn in Dodgeball, and looking cool as you like during the gunplay that comes later in the movie.
Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson – the latter a regular in Steve Carrell’s take on The Office, and last seen turning in a great deadpan comic spot in Zack and Miri – come close to topping him as the Pulp Fiction-esque duo of hitmen, especially when they’re exchanging dialogue with the lead actors or Red, played by The Foot Fist Way‘s Danny McBride – a man who can make me laugh from a still photo, let alone when he opens his mouth. That’s before we even get to a sensational scenery-chewing turn from Ed Begley, which just about steals the whole show. Hell, even Rosie Perez does well enough not to embarrass herself. Just.
If Pineapple Express commits one crime, it’s that the script doesn’t really give this pool of talent enough to get to grips with – they shine so brightly when they are on screen, you just want more, but it’s not there for them as the film elects to spend more time with Rogen and co-star James Franco (best known as GG Jnr. from Sam Raimi’s Spidey shows). Rogen in particular seems to be perfecting his anti-hero persona – and delivers a decent performance here as Dale Denton a work-a-day man-child who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He brings the same idiotic pseudo-obnoxiousness to this role as he delivered for Kevin Smith, but this time married to the kind of heightened ambivalence and unfocused paranoia that is the stock-in-trade of pot-humour.
His performance, though, simply pales alongside that of Franco – who whole-heartedly throws himself into the role of Denton’s dealer, Silas, to such charming ends that you could just hug the TV at times. Right up until the point where they get a bit annoying.
And that’s the point of Pineapple Express: pot’s fine, for a while – but then it just gets kinda boring, and, like, seriously guys, if you erm… wanna get things done, you’re gonna, err… need to like totally put that doobie down for a mo’, bro’. And in the end that’s what the characters have to do to make the end of the film even half credible. Before that, though, we get all the comedy-of-manners buying drugs humour, some ‘nod/wink’ sequences that anyone who has actually spent any amount of time with a pot ‘aficionado’ will recognise, and a ton of great stoner slapstick – but tacked to it is an ending that sobers up the film quick as a flash, at least for a while.
Possibly the funniest thing about the whole package was the glorious black humour underpinning the way Express delivers its action punches. Infused into the humour is incredulity at just how inadequate the protagonists are for the vast majority of the movie; the fights – despite being bloody – are playground rather than action-hero standard, and though there are some genuinely brutal moments, the comedy is always bubbling under nicely. It’s a curious mix: a stunt concept for a movie somewhat borrowed for QT, but one that actually works nonetheless.
As an action movie, this would be low-budget straight to DVD fare. As a comedy, it would be a fairly innocuous run-of-the-mill stoner-com with five great performances. The mix of the two does elevate this effort above the average and into its own little genre section – one that will probably become crowded with far less worthy efforts over the next year.
Pineapple Express is the very definition of a cult movie – it’s also funny, charming, violent and a great showcase for the talent that got together to make it. Its premise, some of the more wistful moments of man-love and a script that sometimes doesn’t give its actors enough, are weaknesses, though – ones that make one hope that this doesn’t become the reference point movie for this ensemble, as they obviously have more to offer. With Observe and Report, Funny People, TV series East Bound & Down, the Green Hornet movie and Russell Brand vehicle Get Him To The Greek to come from the team behind Pineapple Express in the next 18 or so months, we’re going to get to know these guys much better, very soon.
Despite being far from an essential watch, having seen this solid effort deliver on its (admittedly low-brow) promises with a decent amount of style – and set itself up as a less-than-legal ‘drinking’ game of a night in for the so-inclined – I’m now a whole lot more interested in what they’re going to come up with.
What was a shame were the DVD extras, the most noteworthy of which was a very funny buddy commentary track which pulls in most of the lead characters – though they seem more interested in having a laugh than giving cutting insight into the film-making process. There’s also a different cut of the movie, which adds in some extended scenes – these can also be seen as extras, though there is nothing there that I would really miss from the theatrical cut, save for maybe the extra prologue skits.
I found the documentary extras a bit run of the mill, as they seem to concentrate on the fact that nobody thought the idea for the film was funny, without really ever explaining how the film got made beyond the fact that the protagonist’s stars were in the ascendency. The sub-text to this is that Pineapple Express probably got made by way of a test as to whether Rogen and fellow writer/Exec Producer Evan Goldberg can deliver the action/laughs combo that it’s rumoured will be the tenor of their take on the Green Hornet, coming next year – so on a geek level, it is of some interest.
16 January 2009