Underappreciated – Pineapple Express
Judd Apatow has become the king of comedies in the last few years. Each year there is at least one film that he or one of the Apatow crew are involved in. These films usually end up being one of the most talked about comedies of the year.
Then there was Pineapple Express (2008). It had a decent box office and the critics generally liked it, but it did not leave the impact that the other films he was involved with have, and has generally been regulated to a good stoner comedy at best. That is where the main problem for the film sprung up—so many dismissed it as just a stoner movie. For the record, I have never been a fan of stoner films; the humor is usually just basic slapstick and the characters just act like idiots. This movie is not about them smoking pot; smoking pot is just what gets them together and provides the backdrop for the drug dealers to go after them. The rest of the movie is more about the characters in the situation with incidental pot smoking.
Dale (Seth Rogan) is the typical Apatow manchild. He works as a process server, is dating a high school girl, Angie (Amber Head), and enjoys smoking weed. Saul (James Franco), is the dealer he gets it from; he is the more classic stoner guy who laughs a bunch and is out of it, but who thinks he has a good friendship with Dale. This “friendship” leads Saul to sell Dale a new kind of pot, Pineapple Express. Then, while enjoying lighting it up in front of his next client’s house,Dale witnesses the murder of a man by the local drug lord, Ted Jones (Gary Cole), and flees. Dale goes to Saul, freaking out that the drug lords are after him, and remembering that he left the joint, they correctly guess that Ted will be able to trace it back to Saul and then to him, so they flee.
While sounding very serious, the film does a nice job of keeping a balance between violence and comedy—and not just that, but in the different types of humor, as well. They have the stoner moments, and the physical comedy, but it is the characters that make this movie. They have just enough personality to make their reaction to the situation so out there that you cannot help but laugh.
The main sell is watching Saul and Dale try to figure out their situation and the dialogue that accompanies that. Saul has already been played up as being stoned a lot, so when he is randomly, we expect it from him. Dale is not as out of it, but is not a grown-up; he is dating a high school girl and has his own maturity issues. These two are out of their league with their situation, so seeing these personalities bounce off each other in this situation is humorous because we never know what to expect, and yet, the humor never feels forced for the same reason.
It is not just them; we get to see just as many side characters with great dialogue as well. For instance, hit men who are having work issues after one got married. There’s also Angie’s father yelling at her for dating a loser. These side gags work just as well because there is time enough for development. No character is wasted and they give everyone just enough of a personality that we can laugh.
The other thing the film does better than most is it keeps the level of violence believable while also keeping the humor going as well. Saul and Dale get into a fight with Saul’s distributor, Red (Danny McBride). Now, Seth Rogan and James Franco are not the most physical of actors; Rogan is a bit pudgy and Franco is this small skinny guy—they look ridiculous fighting, so even while the violence looks real, it is done with enough humor to make you laugh. Many complaints I have heard say that the ending had a bit more violence than some expected. However, the start of the film had a very close up murder and there are scenes of violence throughout. Action and comedy were set up from the beginning of the movie, and while the ending has more shooting and fighting, it is still interspersed with random comedic moments that stay true to the tone of the film from the start.
While it was never the hit that so many of the Apatow movies were, here is hoping that on DVD, Pineapple Express gets a new life. With such great pacing, dialogue, and acting, it would be a shame for it to be lost. There are rumors now for a sequel, and while I doubt the characters could have the same impact, if it brings people back to the original movie, it would be money well spent.
Final Grade: A