The (Pineapple) Express Lane to Brilliance

Pineapple Express, the Judd Apatow-produced box-office hit, rashly combines two genres that are as antithetical to each other as operating heavy machinery and smoking dope: the stoner comedy and the action shoot ’em up. 

The heroes of the movie are Dale (Seth Rogen), a shambling process server who witnesses a murder while enjoying some wickedly powerful herb — known as “Pineapple Express” — procured from his chronically (in both senses of the phrase) stoned dealer, Saul (James Franco), the kind of charmingly unmotivated entrepreneur who consumes more product than he sells. In thrall to the gloriously illogical logic that THC tends to inspire, the two lads go on the lam (fortified with enough pot to stay high for months), certain that murderous criminals will connect them to the shooting because of a roach Dale left at the scene. (Saul is the only dealer in town that has Pineapple Express; ergo, anyone doing a P.E. doobie must have gotten the dope from him.) Since Dale and Saul are baked out of their minds, they’re initially uncertain if fearing grievous harm is warranted by the messy circumstances, or if the whole nightmare is merely a weed-induced bout of intense paranoia. Which, I’m told, can happen sometimes.

Sadly, it’s all true. Most of your favorite movie bad guy stereotypes — the ruthless drug lord, the Asian crime boss, the dirty cop — make an appearance. And while everyone is shooting and maiming everyone else, the feckless stoners get caught in the middle of the mayhem. Even they too eventually become armed and dangerous, particularly so given the amount of THC in their system.

During the interminable car chases and gunfights, Pineapple Express is as boring, predictable, and depressing as any other cynical Hollywood action spectacle. When it sticks to the sacred tenets of stoner comedy — get high, get confused, get sated — it’s one of the funniest movies ever made. Ever. In the history of civilization.

Seriously. Not soil-yourself-from-laughing-so-hard funny. Not gasping-for-air funny. But consistently, constantly (well, except during the violence), unrelentingly funny. I giggled from start to finish. So amused was I, as the credits began to roll I actually considered staying in the theater and watching the whole two-hour film again, but a hankering for a big ol’ veggie burrito, with a side of black beans scotched that idea. Pineapple Express is as potently entertaining as Pineapple Express is entertainingly potent.

This is because Rogen and Franco appear to be intimately familiar with handling joints — and bongs, and buds, and all the other paraphernalia that populates a blazer’s apartment. Call it great acting if you must. But I detected in these leading men a verisimilitude, a startling veracity in their performances, that made me believe that they were the characters, and that the characters were them. If Rogen and Franco  and their cohort Danny McBride, who plays a hard-to-kill drug distributor named Red,were smoking prop grass on set, they fooled me. Not since Mr. Jeff Bridges assayed the Dude in The Big Lebowski has anyone delivered a more convincing portrayal of somebody who really, really loves his weed.

That 90% of the scenes between Rogen and Franco seem to be at least partially improvised helps with the illusion of voyeuristically observing two of your good bud buddies behaving like irredeemable idiots. And even if the dialogue weren’t made up on the spot, the fact that it feels that way is a testament to the actors’ comedic prowess. Or maybe it’s just really ingenious writing in disguise. The script, written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), is uncommonly knowing; everything you understand about smoking pot (and many things you forgot) show up onscreen: the coughing, the loquaciousness, the urge to dance, sing, and speak like a hiphop gangsta.

If the filmmakers had been brave enough to make all the stereotypical villains wild figments of the stoner imagination, the movie could have been both hilarious and illuminating. Instead of regurgitated scenes of gunfights and car chases, they might have deconstructed the hackneyed genre conventions and examined the fertile (and sublimely ridiculous) meanderings of the THC-intoxicated mind. Instead, they settled for the usual formula. Some folks might think mixing stoners with action is “rad.” I think it’s sad.

But funny, nonetheless.

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