Murder botches the pot party

Posted: August 05, 2008

If there's any doubt about the sweet potency of the variety of marijuana that gives David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express its name, James Franco - as the dealer of said stuff - quickly puts it to rest: "It's the dopest dope I've ever smoked," the actor's shaggy-headed Saul Silver declares. "It's almost a shame to smoke it. It's like killing a unicorn."

A stoner comedy with a Superbad template and a penchant for jokey, graphic violence by way of Tarantino (bloody ears, bleeding guts), Pineapple Express is the latest lowbrow, screwball, gross and goofy romp to roll off the Judd Apatow assembly line. Let's see - Step Brothers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Drillbit Taylor, You Don't Mess With the Zohan . . . I think it's the writer-producer's 88th movie this year.

The film, which teams the sublimely spaced-out Franco with Apatow cohort and Knocked Up star Seth Rogen - the duo are like Abbott and Costello saturated in THC - also marks a departure for director Green. A writer and director of serious, seriously accomplished indies (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Snow Angels), the filmmaker gets to orchestrate big Hollywood stunts (a car chase, a warehouse shoot-out) and parody our culture's obsession with firearms. (At least, I think all that firearm fetishism is parody.)

Rogen plays Dale Denton, a dedicated pothead who tools around town serving subpoenas - while toking weed and listening to talk radio. Life is good: He has a beautiful girlfriend (Amber Heard), even if he has to rationalize the fact she's still in high school. And he has a great dealer: Saul, a guy who wears pajamas all day, watches Room 227 reruns, and doles out doobies for a living.

The trouble starts when Dale, having dropped by Saul's for a bag of Pineapple Express - and having shared a uniquely designed joint with his dealer - gets back into his car and witnesses a murder. A uniformed officer (Rosie Perez) and a guy (Gary Cole) who turns out to be a drug kingpin (and Saul's supplier) take turns firing at an Asian man. The killers see that Dale has witnessed the shooting, and so the chase is on.

What follows is a bunch of Looney Tune set pieces: a campout/freakout in the woods, a stolen police car, and a furious fight scene that ends in the comic duct-taping of doofus character actor Danny McBride. And then there's Dale's long-planned visit to meet his girlfriend's parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn). Needless to say, with thugs, dopers and cops on his heels, the woefully stoned Dale's parley with the parentals does not go as planned.

Like last summer's Apatow entry Superbad, his Pineapple Express is very much about male friendship, buddies and bonding. The movie's too long - and the violence and mayhem are unexpectedly harsh and heavy - but Franco's inspired, looped performance is right up there in the annals of reefer filmdom with Jeff Bridges' the Dude in The Big Lebowski.

Like Franco's Saul says in an altogether different context, "The monkey's out of the bottle, man."


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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