David Gordon Green, the indie specialist of such films such as George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels, was just about the last person I’d ever expect to get the directing job on a Cheech & Chong inspired stoner-action-comedy like Pineapple Express. Up until right before Pineapple Express, his style would have been considered much more in the vein of Terrence Malick than Judd Apatow (who produced Pineapple Express). But almost to prove a point that he could change it up and play in the big leagues of studio financed product, Green stepped out of his comfort zone and crafted, along with screenwriters Seth Rogen (who also stars) and Evan Goldberg, the ultimate bromance marijuana movie, a film that playfully mixes genres, blending simple yet extremely effective pot humor with the sensibilities of John Woo’s ultra-violent action movie period of The Killer and Hard Boiled and Face/Off. The results are a bizarrely awesome, hard to define piece of work, a movie that has big laughs, a surprising and almost giddy amount of blood, a never ending stream of creative profanity being uttered from the stacked cast, and a huge supply of generous heart and friendship born from the two perfectly matched leads (Rogen and a scene-stealing James Franco, playing everyone’s friendly neighborhood weed dealer). I’ve been a fan of this film from day one, and I’ve watched it repeatedly over the last seven years, and it’s proven to be a comedy that just won’t die for me. The summer of 2008 will always be remembered for Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, two blockbuster comedies that grabbed their R-ratings by the balls and embraced the hell out of their crazy ideas.
The set-up is simple in Pineapple Express. Rogen, playing a ganja-loving process server named Dale Denton, stops over at his dealer’s apartment to grab some little green trees. His dealer, Saul Silver (an utterly priceless Franco, looking beyond glazed-over), has the best stuff in town: Pineapple Express. Oh yeah – notice their initials? SS and DD? Same Shit Different Day. Ha! After getting his fresh new stash, Dale heads over to serve someone with their papers, only this someone happens to be the city’s main importer of the fabulous Mary-Jane. What Dale also doesn’t expect to see is Ted Jones (a disheveled and drugged-out Gary Cole, reliably funny as always) murder his rival, shooting him in the back of the head in the living room of his glass-walled house. Fleeing the scene, but not before throwing his roach of Pineapple Express out the window, Dale high-tails it back to Saul’s to tell him what he’s witnessed. Ted observes Dale making his escape, heads out to the street, sniffs the roach, and because Saul is the only one that he’s given the Pineapple too, he knows immediately where to start looking. The film speeds along with Dale and Saul on the run from Ted and his goons, getting stoned every chance they get, and finally culminating in a wonderfully graphic shoot-out that would make Woo and Michael Bay blush.
What’s so fun and unique about this wild and sometimes out of control movie is the irreverent tone and blissful disregard for logic. The first portion of the film is an easy-going, herb-scented comedy, with Franco’s Saul tossing out one incredible zinger after another. Franco seemed utterly baked in this film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was, though he’s repeatedly claimed that he wasn’t. Either way, he looks incredibly at ease in the role, laughing and snorting and having a blast with his absurdly lovable character. Rogen, who can do no wrong at this point for me, plays the guy we’ve come to love from films such as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but here, he’s in action-hero mode towards the second half, and it was a blast to see Rogen clearly going wild during the raucous action scenes. One of the film’s highlights is a ridiculous, apartment-destroying brawl between Rogen, Franco, and the hilarious Danny McBride playing the world’s worst best-friend/middle man, who gets tons of laughs with his dead-pan line delivery and vulgar idiocies. Cinematographer Tim Orr, who has shot all of Green’s features, opted for 2.40:1 widescreen, and he was able to mix an anything-goes-atmosphere with creatively chosen angles that maximize the jokes and punchlines while heightening the action. Orr’s work is always visually interesting, and here, he was able to riff on the stylings of a studio action picture while still retaining his inherently organic qualities as a craftsman.
Pineapple Express is, at its heart, a male weepie. Dale and Saul love each other, and like any lovers, they have some fun, they fight, they separate, and then they get back together. Whether it’s the two of them blowing clouds of smoke onto unsuspecting caterpillars or wielding double shotguns and blowing people away, they are a duo that can’t be separated. A great supporting cast is also along for the ride, including Bill Hader in the film’s hilarious 1930’s set prologue showcasing the sad prohibition of the magical plant, Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan as bickering, hysterically inept hitmen, Rosie Perez as a corrupt cop and Cole’s henchwoman, the sexy Amber Heard as Rogen’s high-school(!) girlfriend, and Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. as Heard’s disapproving parents. And when the action-fireworks take place during the film’s final and extremely bloody act, you’re all the more invested in the characters because of the time spent with them watching their characters evolve. It’s a film that’s fairly layered and sort of dark when you cut down to the bone, and it’s easily the most subversive item in Apatow’s catalogue of cinematic craziness. Pineapple Express is the sort of stony movie gift that keeps getting you buzzed, even if you don’t partake in Item 9.