The recent surge of stoner comedies continues apace with “Pineapple Express,” the latest film under the Aegis of Apatow (producer/story credit), and it’s a perfectly… adequate flick. The laugh content is substantial enough to distinguish it from a Friedberg/Seltzer production, but let’s be honest; a great deal of the s**t you find funny when you’re high really isn’t (as anyone who’s smoked a few bowls and laughed like a hyena to “Assy McGee” can attest). So hopefully nobody will be too disappointed when I tell them that “Express” is largely hit and miss.*
The uneven nature of the movie is thanks to the story, which sounds exactly like something you or I would come up with after spending the afternoon getting baked and watching “North by Northwest” and “Die Hard.” Avid pothead Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is coasting through his life as a process server. He dates a high school girl (for reasons which are never adequately explained) and gets his weed from Saul (James Franco), a garrulous sort who believes they have something stronger than a mere business relationship. When Dale inadvertently witnesses Saul’s supplier Ted (Gary Cole) and a cop (Rosie Perez) committing a murder, he rushes back to Saul’s place, where they realize (or fantasize) that the roach Dale left at the scene – remnants of a joint packed with the rare and potent “Pineapple Express” – will allow Ted to track both of them down. Armed only with Fruit Roll-Ups and juice boxes, the two go off the grid… as far as their dope-addled intellects will allow.
“Pineapple Express” has some admittedly funny moments, mostly centered on Franco (channeling a less belligerent version of Floyd from “True Romance”) and Danny McBride as Red, the upper level dealer with a Rasputin-like tolerance for grievous bodily harm. The inspired fight scenes and goofy take on friendship and ‘doing the right thing’ help us to forgive the bigger problems; namely how a dude of Rogen’s countenance always ends up with good looking women in these movies, and the fact that many of the jokes were obviously included simply because of their appeal to the weed community (gags about paranoia and the munchies among them).
It’s inevitable, when you think about it. Pot humor stopped being a counterculture phenomenon 20 years ago, when the “Just Say No” rigidity of the Reagan/Bush era gave way to the “I didn’t inhale” indecision of the Clinton years. The stoner comedy is just another genre now, with strengths (unbridled vulgarity, creativity unfettered by sobriety) and weaknesses (endless discussions of/references to pop culture minutiae) like any other.
Part of me also finds it amusing that Hollywood has almost completely eliminated cigarette smoking in the movies while marijuana has never been more popular, reflecting a sea change in American society exemplified by the replacement of cinematic badasses like Bogart and McQueen with men of inaction like Rogen and Franco.
Lung cancer’s a bitch.
“Pineapple Express” is passable enough as a comedy to mildly recommend it to general audiences. However, I can’t deny that its appeal will increase a hundredfold if you choose to attend in an altered state of some sort, just remember to bring your own candy. And please don’t take this as an endorsement of illegal activity (bringing your own candy).