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“Pineapple Express”

by Bob Garver

            For a film with a fruit in its title, “Pineapple Express” is majorly lacking in sweetness.  Sweetness is the ingredient that usually sets Judd Apatow-style comedies apart from other comedies.  There may be an occasional fight, and relationships may go through tough times, but overall they are quite pleasant.  “Pineapple Express” is a generally unpleasant comedy, and that unpleasantness makes the film much less funny than it should be. 

The film opens in 1937 (complete with an old-school Columbia logo, getting the film off to an excellent start).  It is The Story Of Why Marijuana Is Illegal.  Apparently the government gave the drug to Private Miller (Bill Hader, great as always), but all it did was make him belligerent toward his commanding officers.  I guess this scene is there to explain what the government must have been thinking when they outlawed the drug.  The rest of “Pineapple Express” takes place in the world of crime that was supposedly created by this decision. 

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) is the Everyman who gets sucked into this world.  He’s a subpoena server with a girlfriend who is still in high school.  He’s also the best customer of Saul Silver (James Franco), a drug dealer who hooks him up with a batch of the particularly-potent Pineapple Express.  Dale looks down on Saul because he’s a drug dealer, and can’t wait to get out of his apartment and back to his “real” job.

            That night, he goes to serve a man with a subpoena, only to see that man commit a murder.  He can only think of one man who can help him, and that’s Saul.  This is a bad idea, as it turns out that the murderer is Saul’s supplier, who knows that Saul is the only one who has access to the Pineapple Express that Dale was smoking.  Soon both Dale and Saul are on the run. 

             As a buddy comedy, “Pineapple Express” works reasonably well.  Rogen and Franco have good chemistry with each other, and the prodding of executive producer Judd Apatow only brings out the best in them.  Still, the characters aren’t very likeable.  Dale is too mean and self-centered.  Saul is more gentle and friendly, but at the end of the day he’s still a drug dealer (he even sells to kids!).  There is a subplot about Saul only selling drugs to put his grandmother through a nursing home, but it seems like it was tacked on as a last-minute effort to make the characters sympathetic. 

           The film may have its merits as a buddy comedy, but as an action movie it fails miserably.  Murder and killing are a major part of the story, so the climax is naturally a shootout in a warehouse.  The problem is not that Rogen and Franco make poor action stars.  Franco has proven in the “Spider-Man” films that he’s not out of place in that environment.  Rogen is out of place, but that isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes it’s exciting to see an unlikely candidate like Rogen forced to adapt to unfamiliar action territory. 

          The problem with the action scenes is that they’re just done poorly.  Punches are thrown and make disproportionate impacts, telling us that they didn’t really connect.  Nobody except major characters gets in any offense, an unbelievable stretch since we are to believe that most of the extras are trained killers.  Characters are often shown from the back during fights, making it obvious that the film is using stunt doubles.  A comedy with a talkative, improvisational style doesn’t even need elaborate action sequences like these, let alone ones that take viewers out of the movie. 

             “Pineapple Express” just doesn’t have the heart to be a great comedy.  Director David Gordon Greene thinks that by adding drugs and bullets, it will become edgy and exciting.  What he really does is add unfunny elements that drag down the parts that actually work.  In a month filled packed with studio comedies, “Pineapple Express” deserves to get lost in the shuffle.

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