August 06, 2008

Pineapple Express

Wait...this isn't a "Reservoir Dogs" remake?

Grade: B +

Director: David Gordon Green

Starring: Seth Rogan, James Franco, Danny R. McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Kevin Corrigan, and Craig Robinson

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

It seems strange to appraise the “history” of the stoner comedy, a subgenre whose alpha is also its archetype: the Cheech & Chong films of the 1970s and 80s. Within the lineage the follows are amusing, yet second-tier entries such as How High and Half-Baked. However, it takes an acute auteur to blend high hilarity with a cinematic aesthetic to create a critically-acclaimed cult classic on the level of, say, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused.

No marriage on the summer movie release schedule seemed more unlikely than hitching a Judd Apatow production with indie director David Gordon Green, the N.C. School of the Arts’ grad and creator of such idiosyncratic serio-dramas as George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Undertow. However, what at first blush appeared quite unholy turns out to be a match made in movie heaven.

The principal miracle of Pineapple Express is that Green manages to sustain, even elevate, the Apatow oeuvre without compromising the director’s distinctive filmmaking style. Superbad scribes Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg may have written the screenplay, but it is Green’s coterie who calls the shots behind the camera, including longtime cinematographer Tim Orr. Moreover, Green’s improvisational narrative execution fits well with Rogan and Apatow’s collaborative, ad-libbed style.

The happy, hilarious result is a contemporary comedy steeped in a palpable 1970s vibe. Grainy, washed-out film stock, use of widescreen, and playful scene transitions contribute an eclectic visual flair that must traverse a mash-up of buddy films, violent actioners, and black comedy. Indeed, Green acknowledges the heavy influence of two films: The Gravy Train, a 1974 Terrence Malick-penned buddy pic, and Tango and Cash.

When Dale Denton (Rogan), an indolent, perpetually stoned process server, witnesses a murder committed by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and the city’s most notorious drug lord (Gary Cole), Dale turns for help from his well-baked dealer, Saul (James Franco). The two stoners go on the lame, pursued by henchmen who identify them using a roach of the titular rare strain of weed – which only Saul sells – that Dale dropped at the scene of the crime. Along the way, each begins to recognize their failed reality and lost dreams: Dale is a thirtysomething, indolent process server, presently dating an 18-year-old high school senior (Amber Heard), who one day wants to host a drive-time talk radio show; Saul once dreamt of becoming a civil engineer “designing septic tanks for playgrounds.”

To say Franco is the film’s scene-stealer would be a gross understatement. Those weary of the young actor’s steadily stolid movie roles forget his Freaks and Geeks origins. Here, Franco plays Saul like a mash-up of Jeff Spicoli and Brad Pitt’s stoned-out Floyd in True Romance. The only other capable of purloining the spotlight away from is Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way, as well as Green’s All the Real Girls) as Red, Saul’s duplicitous, oddball friend. Red launches the most bizarre brawl this side of Borat, and there is no moment on film this year funnier and more strangely exhilarating than when Red and Dale, armed to the hilt, speed to Saul’s rescue aboard a yellow Daewoo blasting Public Enemy’s “Lost at Birth.”

Everything in Pineapple Express is full-blown, including violence on par with a Tarantino flick that occasionally jars the audience away from the humor at hand. And, the film’s overextended action finale comes close to confusing satire with homage, the same fault found near tail end of Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz. Still, this is not only Green’s most accessible (and, yes, mainstream) film to date; it is also his most technically proficient and joyous. It also demonstrates that even the silliest, albeit clever pap – when wrested away from the Adam McKays and Dennis Dugans of the world – can yield artistic integrity in the hands of a real filmmaker looking for the right time to catch a buzz.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait Wait Wait...

Rosie Perez....

Whomever is editing those trailers better be getting fired right now.

This revelation has promoted this movie from "Wait for DVD" status.

I am a bit disappointed in this review for the lack of coverage of her rac....uhh..acting, and how overdone her latina accent is, but it shall be a pleasant surprise.