The challenge for stoner comedies has always been to get past the ground-floor premise--"Dude, am I wasted!"--and the assumption that watching people who are high as f#@*ed up eagles is uproariously funny. Not all stoned people are funny, you know, and too much of what passes for stoner humor requires that the audience be stoned as well if they're going to have any fun.
Not so with "Pineapple Express." The screenplay from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") incorporates some material that would be funny in any character comedy, and there's a nice balance of verbal jokes and physical humor. The real surprise is that Rogen and Goldberg sidestep scatological and bodily function comedy in favor of improv, with the actors' riffs on character adding a whole other level of comedy.
Even the opening situation is funny. Rogen plays Dale Denton, a 25-year-old process server who stokes up before serving every summons and tries to put in a plug for legalized marijuana on radio talk shows while he's driving between jobs. He has a trunk full of costumes (including a doctor's smock, which he dons in order to serve a neighbor's complaint to a surgeon . . . in surgery) and an 18-year-old girlfriend who's still in high school. Yep, he's a ladder-climber. But we hadn't seen that situation played so effectively since "Hill Street Blues," and when Rogen and Goldberg recycle material they give it their own twist. The result is a 112-minute film that's two parts belly laughs and one part action flick. I can't tell you anything about the 117-minute unrated version, which I'd requested from Sony, because somebody over there (what in the hell are they smoking, anyway?) decided that DVD Town readers could get by with the standard one-disc theatrical version instead of the Blu-ray or two-disc unrated version.
But even the theatrical version is funny, and James Franco ("Milk," "Spider-Man") shows his versatility as Dale's drug dealer and soon-to-be-partner-on-the-lam, Saul, offering a performance that's familiar yet still somehow memorable. Certainly it helps to have a character who takes a sniff of a bag full of dried Cannabis flower buds and exclaims, in ecstasy, "It's like God's vagina!" Stuff like that is light years away from "Dude, where's my" whatever, and "Pineapple Express" is filled with it. And by the way, if you're wondering about the title, Pineapple Express is the offspring of many different quality strains of pot, the rarest of the rare, and only one dealer has it-Saul. That's why, when Dale is sitting in his car enjoying another stick of weed and a female cop pulls up behind him, goes into the house, and murders someone right in front of Dale's horrified eyes and stupefied brain, and they see him, the drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and cop (Rosie Perez) know exactly where to look.
It's "Some Like It Hot" without the female impersonation and love triangle, as we watch these two stumblebums try to stay one step ahead of the two thugs that have been sent to "waste" them in a way they're most unaccustomed, with a rival Chinese drug ring also getting involved. If there's a surprise, it's that in the third act everyone slips the comedy into their pockets so they can handle weapons. I thought the film could have benefited from more comic intrusion during the action scenes that all but take over the film.
Though middle man Red (Danny R. McBride) reluctantly joins them at one point, this comedy is a two-man job. Ed Begley Jr., Perez, Cole, Kevin Corrigan, and the rest of the minor players remain just that. And while there's a hilarious scene or two involving Dale's young girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard), it's the Seth Rogen and James Franco show, and the duo doesn't disappoint. They work as well together as any comedy team I've seen, partly because each of them manages to impose a little self-restraint on their performances. Self-restraint keeps their characters from becoming caricatures, and for a film like this with a little serious action thrown in, that's crucial. But because even the two hit men (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robertson) manage to sidestep the clichés of their characters, I'm guessing at least part of the credit has to go to director David Gordon Green ("Undertow," "Snow Angels"), who does a decent job with his first comedy.
"Pineapple Express" is presented in a letterboxed 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and for a DVD (there's that disclaimer again) there's only the slightest amount of grain throughout--though I suspect that the Blu-ray might do better at handling the detail in what turns out to be quite a few night scenes. I would hope (though again, I can't say, since the dolts didn't send me the Blu-ray) that HD would also take care of the problem of what seems on DVD to be a soft, even flat picture, especially in medium-light scenes. The colors also didn't seem terribly "rad" for a stoner film (which presumes that at least a third of the audience will be getting wasted to watch it).
I found the sound to be uniformly better, with an English or French Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivering a strong (but not room-thumping) bass and a good, clear, robust sound. The high notes weren't too tinny, the music didn't compete with dialogue, and the effects (gunfire especially) has plenty of zip and pop to them. Decent soundtrack, in other words, with English and French subtitles.
The single disc DVD features just a handful of bonus features. There are four extended/alternate scenes that run just 10 minutes, a gag reel that runs half that length (which provides a few genuine giggles), a 20-minute making-of feature that touches the usual bases (in which producer Judd Apatow says the film was influenced by "True Romance," which in turn explains the degeneration into violence near the end), and a commentary track. The latter is probably the most entertaining, though, as you'd expect with this group, the goal seems to be entertainment rather than exposition. They spend more time competing for laughs than they do explaining the film, though they do get into discussions of the locations and character-actor match-ups and a few digs at the low budget they were working with (reportedly half of what they had asked for). For the commentary track, the director is joined by Apatow, writer Goldberg, and actors Rogen, Franco, McBride, and Begley Jr. Yes, that's quite a crew, and yes, they end up competing for air time.
Forget Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, Chocolate Thai, or Maui Zowie. "Pineapple Express" is the real thing: a stoner movie that isn't stone-cold stupid. Rogen and Franco make the best stoner pairing since Jay and Silent Bob--even better, I think, because they try to steer clear of stereotypes.