Summer Movie Suicide Mission No. 24: Pineapple Express

August 18, 2008

In which one man attempts to view every summer blockbuster for the entire season, regardless of taste, genre, or brand freakin’ new Huey Lewis and the News songs.

Pineapple Express, the latest film from co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad) and the newest chapter in producer Judd Apatow’s master plan to take over the movie universe, is not a stoner movie. It’s more Hot Fuzz than Half Baked. Which is to say, it’s far more derivative of the former than the latter. Even Rogen has sort of copped to this. To wit:

It’s funny, I was just talking to Edgar [Wright, director of Hot Fuzz] at Comic-Con over the weekend, and he had just seen the movie, and I told him—there’s a lot of shots in the movie of people loading guns and cocking guns and stuff like that, and that’s all because of Edgar. I asked him, “What’s your advice?” He’s like, “You know, the one thing we went back and shot was a lot of shots of people loading guns and stuff, because we knew we could just put them anywhere, and they were good cutting pieces.” So I told Edgar, “You’ve officially been referenced. These shots are directly referencing your movie, and it only came out a year ago.”

I’m pleased to see that Rogen and co-star James Franco didn’t reach for a modern day Cheech and Chong (who aren’t that funny to begin with), but I’m a little disconcerted that Rogen, Goldberg, and director David Gordon Green (George Washington) opted to walk such a similar line to a film that, as Rogen notes, is only a year old. Granted, the script for Pineapple Express is several years old, but the style is totally borrowed from Wright and collaborator Simon Pegg. It seems like Rogen had a last minute revelation that his film could be more than an action farce, and tried to turn it into a commentary on the action genre. The problem is, the film he so idolizes played that game better than any movie that preceded it. Pineapple Express, by its very design (and its timing), is going to feel a little thin by comparison. 

I really hate to nitpick on that, because Pineapple is, by all measures, a fine comedy. It’s refreshing to see Franco, who, like Rogen, cut his teeth in Freaks and Geeks, make a return to comedy. He has such wonderful timing, and really needs more roles like this, to balance out his typical casting as a “James Dean type.” Danny P. McBride plays third-wheel Red (who’s like the McLovin of this film; every one of Rogen and Goldberg’s scripts needs to have a McLovin, and also copious amounts of heterosexual man love), coming out of nowhere to get some of the biggest laugh lines in this movie. Bad guys Craig Robinson (The Office), Kevin Corrigan (The Departed, Grounded for Life), Gary Cole (Office Space) and Rosie Perez (pretty much every movie of the mid-90s, but nothing recently) spend the entire film hunting down Rogen and Franco, and all (save for Cole, who’s underutilized) have their fair share of gags along the way. This is a well cast film, where Rogen, the ostensible star, could well be the weak link, as he’s pretty much played the same character in every one of his films.

Similarly, Green is an inspired choice of director. He’s not typically known for comedy, but he handles the action scenes, including a great chase in a stolen police car, and a hysterically over-the-top fight scene in the home of Red, the middle man who tries to sell Rogen out. He does a great job of playing the action for laughs, and it’s certainly not his fault that somebody had already made Hot Fuzz. He does the best with what he’s given.

Ultimately, though, you have to judge a comedy on how funny it is, and Pineapple Express does pretty well by that count. It just lives in a huge shadow, and at least as far as I’m concerned, falls prey to some pretty huge expectations. The trailer (which was excellent) was modeled after 1970s and 80s action television series, and promised a send-up of that genre. The final product was a little bit slicker than that, and made action movies a much more pointed target than they needed to be. Not only does it fall short of Hot Fuzz, it falls short of Superbad, too. It’s not quite the action movie satire it thinks it is, and it’s not quite the laugh factory it could have been.

It’s good that Pineapple Express isn’t a stoner movie, which is really a hollow genre. However, there was no reason it couldn’t have been a little sillier. It would be a stretch to claim this movie takes itself seriously. But if all of its characters are going to light up, It would be nice if the filmmakers would lighten up.

Film: Pineapple Express
Director: David Gordon Green
Stars: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Danny P. McBride

Viewing Situation: Weekday matinee, half full; digital projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 68%
My Grade (Out of 10): 7

Next Up: Swing Vote

>> Interview: Seth Rogen [The A.V. Club]

One Response to “Summer Movie Suicide Mission No. 24: Pineapple Express”

  1. movie buff Says:

    first half of Pineapple Express was about half as good as Knocked Up; the second half was almost as bad as Freddy God Fingered

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