15 August 2008

Pineapple Express

Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Full credits from IMDb

Like its stoner protagonists, Pineapple Express often forgets what it’s supposed to be doing and does something else instead. Ostensibly an action movie, it frequently stops its car chases to digress—to smoke a joint and chill out. That’s where half of its comedy stems from: the characters’ drug-induced dim-wittedness and paranoia. That seems an easy target, just one step up from Monica Lewinsky jokes, but Dean of Comedy Judd Apatow’s regulars—Rogen, doing what feels like a long Lewis Black impression, and James Franco, playing against post-Freaks and Geeks type as a goofy drug dealer—pack in enough one-liners to give it a sense of freshness. (Comparing the strain of marijuana from which the film takes its name to “God’s vagina,” or smoking something so rare to “killing a unicorn”.) This is a comedy of bowl hitting goofiness, but its sense of humor is still more in line with Knocked Up’s culture riffing than with “Dave’s not here.”

Pineapple Express culls the other half of its comedy from its action sequences, which indie expat Green plays, to an extent, believably; at least, in such a manner that should be relatable to his unheroic target demographic. Rogen and Franco play two schlubs who stumble into a badass drug war and (disregarding the finale, in which the tone changes to that of ultraviolence) they never break those character types. Fisticuffs play out awkwardly because they are two men who’ve likely never been in a fight before. Bad guys cry when they get hurt. Franco apologizes after he shoots someone. Like Hot Fuzz, Pineapple Express’ characters belong to a generation reared on action movies and model themselves thusly: from a long scene in which they rehearse their action-movie poses and ironic one-liners, treating guns like props, to a chase in which Franco tries to kick out an obscured windshield (“isn’t that what they do?”) only to get his foot stuck in the unshatterable glass. But Pineapple is superior to its English counterpart; Green’s film, too, takes much of its action spoofing seriously but, unlike Hot Fuzz, never more so than its smaller-scale, character-driven moments.

And it’s in those moments, like a chase paused for an idyll in the forest—in which Rogen & Franco try to get a caterpillar high and play leapfrog—that Pineapple Express finds its core, since it’s after something other than Cheech & Chong gags or Shane Black-esque gun battles. At root, this is another boy-on-boy romance courtesy the prolific Apatow (who makes a cameo as a biker on a bus stop bench). Rogen & Goldberg’s previous collaboration, Superbad, ended with a hint of tragic pathos—with females tearing the adolescent male leads apart. Hos were placed before bros, but this film works as fantasy corrective; “bros before hos” is declared as guiding philosophy twice, with total seriousness.

Homoerotic undertones bubble much closer to the surface here than in most straight male American comedies—and not even (always) for gross-out effect! Franco suggests he & Rogen should spend the night in a motel; “imagine if I gave you a handjob,” Franco says to Rogen in a Freudian slip; Rogen lends Franco his jacket when they spend a cold night in the woods; and on and on, culminating near the end in an extended scene of accidentally simulated kinky-sex. Featuring post-college characters, in contrast to Superbad’s high schoolers, Pineapple Express is about how to recapture surrendered pubescent fraternity. The recent Norwegian film Reprise showed such a quest to be a pernicious, romantic delusion, but Green’s film is a man’s Hollywood daydream. A subplot about Rogen’s romance with a high-school girl is left as a loose end; or, more to the point, it’s rendered extraneous. She’s pushed aside so the boys can be together again, without feminine interference, in order to revel in one another’s company. The film ends with the characters sitting around a table, discussing some of the film’s most memorable moments, a bit of self-indulgence meant perhaps to parallel the audience’s own post-film recaps; it more strongly suggests, though, that these manboys have little interest in anyone or anything outside of each other. Well, maybe in weed, but certainly not in any chicks. Grade: B+

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