Monday, August 11, 2008

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS: THE BAD WEED



No one was more ready to love Pineapple Express than I. After all, Superbad landed in my top five of 2007, and I'm a big fan of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (Why, I even enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, an appreciation that admittedly had less to do with Peter Segal's penis than Mila Kunis' entirely lovely countenance and sassy persona.) But, at the risk of cementing my increasing reputation as a contrarian to the oracle of general opinion about this summer’s movies, after stumbling out of this loud, messy shambles I began to think that this one is probably best thought of as the kind of picture its two stoned leads, process server Seth Rogen (the film’s co-writer with Evan Goldberg) and amiably foggy drug dealer James Franco, would think was really fucking gnarly. Unfortunately, this notion doesn’t make the movie any more fun to watch. After about 45 minutes, as the movie’s aimless hysteria begins to escalate, the good-natured comic intensity is gradually leeched out and all we’re left with is a fuzzy-headed, pot-addled take on an action movie template that requires a whole lot more than goofy paranoia and swearing to hold our interest. There are lots of scenes of Rogen and Franco running around shouting at the top of their lungs, busting in on Rogen’s girlfriend’s unamused family during dinner, or being chased through various urban locales (including an old folks’ home) by hit men who want to pop them both after Rogen witnesses a drug kingpin assassinate a rival, all punctuated by bursts of grotesque Tarantino-esque gore that is supposed to be shockingly funny but instead just throws the movie’s tone pointlessly out of whack.

Director David Gordon Green doesn’t show much talent for building comic momentum, within scenes or over long stretches—the movie seems, for all its noise, curiously remote, forever waiting to spin off into some inspired lunacy that never coalesces. And the screenwriters recycle the “bromosexual” underpinning of their infinitely superior Superbad (which was directed, by Greg Mottola, with sensitivity and spirit, though few have ever acknowledged it), but this time the fraternal love feels forced, shoehorned in, and emotionally misplaced in a movie which climaxes with a routine (and routinely overscaled) shootout in the kingpin’s warehouse hideaway. (Rogen and Franco have a potentially hilarious moment trying to loose each other’s bonds and ending up enacting zipless man-on-man sex, but the joke goes absolutely nowhere.) Here the leads get to indulge in a lot of non-ironic punching and firing of automatic weaponry—it’s supposed to be funnier, I guess, when the heroes are still so stoned that they can barely make out their targets—but by the big finish the movie has already fizzled like a hastily extinguished joint.

Danny McBride as Red, a mid-level dealer who betrays and then befriends our heroes, has some weirdly charming moments, but Red is no McLovin’ and McBride, for all the good press in the wake of The Foot Fist Way, is no Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Only Craig Robinson as a temperamental, imposing, yet slightly fey assassin has anything resembling an original point of view as an actor—at one point he determines that his targets are nearby by observing their untouched dinner still waiting at table, smelling its aroma, and then sticking his hands in the mashed potatoes with a trifle too much sensual enthusiasm in the name of determining the food’s warmth. Each time Robinson comes on screen there’s a tiny bit of business well worth waiting for to contrast with the crass pitch of everything else going on around him. (The actor is paired with the glowering Kevin Corrigan, used far less well here than he was in Superbad’s fateful first party scene as the unpredictably psychotic host whose girlfriend leaves a menstrual souvenir on Jonah Hill’s jeans.) Pineapple Express wants to get by on its genial shagginess alone, and so do Rogen and Franco. Unfortunately what’s funny when you’re stoned rarely translates for the uninebriated into the same kind of giggles. When the smoke cleared I had the munchies, all right—I was still hungry for a good comedy, the sort to which Pineapple Express aspires but really cannot compare.

6 comments:

Ed Howard said...

As a fan of Green's previous films and someone with an on/off interest in whatever Apatow's up to, I thought this was really good. Not as good as Superbad, no, but much better than either of the uneven films Apatow directed himself. I liked that the film had as much room for small character moments -- not just with Craig Robinson but with everyone -- as for the broader humor and crazy action set pieces. I got as many laughs out of the small details (like Dale brushing the leaves from Saul's backside after a game of leapfrog, or the way Saul, pretending to be tied up, quickly pulls his hand out to cough into it) as the big set-ups. There's no arguing what someone finds funny, but I thought Green actually showed a lot of sensitivity for the type of comedy here, which often reminded me of the credits sequence from Undertow.

pacheco said...

Dennis, I think I felt very similar to you. I've written so (in a review that'll be up at The House Next Door very soon), but I didn't feel that Green took control of this film, visually or story-wise. The movie has plenty of potential, and it really made me laugh at points (even the little bits, like the fact that Bone Thugs was playing in the background of the bathroom scene with McBride and Rogen), but as you said, I found it to be pretty sloppy and aimless a lot of the time.

Ed, I actually read (and enjoyed) your review a day or two ago, and I agree with plenty in it, but I personally didn't feel Green's touch as much as you did. As you also said, there's no arguing what someone finds funny, and I actually found much of the film laugh-out-loud hilarious, but there was too much rambling/improv for my taste, and I felt it really dragged many of the scenes.

Larry Aydlette said...

I walked out after 15 minutes and went in to see The X Files again.

Erin said...

I'm right there with you. I don't blame Green for wanting to cash a paycheck, but action comedy is definitely not his forte.

Not to mention Seth Rogen was completely phoning it in. I didn't think Knocked Up was so groundbreaking as to allow him to be coasting at age 25.

BTW I think in the first paragraph you mean Jason Segel, but calling him Peter is a nice Freudian slip.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Erin-- HA! Good one! I obviously didn't see that, and what could be a more obvious giveaway than my "he doth protest too much" disclaimer in the sentence itself?! Jason Segel it is, and yours was such a good catch that I almost feel like not going back in to correct it!

Ed-- I forgot about that bit of business with the leaf brushing. That was good. But it was just too small a moment for me to make up for the deadening weight of the rest of the overwrought antics in this movie.

Pacheco: At what point did you realize the movie wasn't working for you?

Larry-- I envy you. And I think I might have another date with Mulder and Scully this week too, if I can get my homework done!

pacheco said...

Dennis, for me, the realization came at a couple of points. I know that when they spent the night in the woods, there was some dialogue as they sat in the car. This is when I noticed that I felt like I was sitting through too much flat dialogue, waiting for the inevitable punchline or throwaway joke. It felt like almost a pattern, as if the shot started and would wait as long as it needed to until it got to the funny part, THEN it would finally cut.

And then I suppose around the time that Dale and Saul were selling weed to teenagers, despite the funny parts of the scene, I noticed how aimless the film was feeling for me.

Something I noticed from the get-go was how similar the film is to Superbad. It felt like it stylistically, not to mention that both films start out with a curly-haired slob saying some crazy things as he drives....