Maybe American cinema is okay after all, maybe it is evolving. Or maybe Pineapple Express is just an exception. It certainly seems like Seth Rogen’s finding the right mix for popularity and quality, but Express outdoes anything I thought it’d be.
After a shaky prologue sequence–which overuses Bill Hader for some kind of a Superbad reference and underuses James Remar, who only gets a couple lines–Express moves into safe territory. It’s Rogen being a funny pothead while he goes about doing funny things as a process server. It’s all very funny and very safe. Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg manage to incorporate the most astounding plot elements and make them work–Rogen’s got an eighteen year-old high school girlfriend and there’s a great scene with him getting jealous over one of her classmates. It shouldn’t work, but it does and beautifully.
Then James Franco enters the story. Pineapple Express is, while still very funny in its quick scenes at this point, able to take a break for Franco and Rogen to sit around for a long scene. The scene’s funny, but it’s also character establishing. Express does narrative work while it’s treading water. The film mixes genres better than any American film I’m familiar with.
The film then evolves into the stoners on the lam comedy the trailers advertise. This period only lasts a little while (it’s hard to tell how long the periods last in Express, which runs close to two hours) and includes a hilarious fight scene.
But when the film becomes a buddy action movie–Pineapple Express owes more to Lethal Weapon than anything else–it gets fantastic. It plays with the genre it’s aping while never leaving it. It’s Lethal Weapon with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson hugging. But it still maintains that original genre–the stoner comedy–even during the intricate action scenes.
Director Green does a great job with those action scenes–seeing Gary Cole do John Woo is a great sight gag–but it’s kind of strange how little I thought about the direction throughout. Green does a fine job, but Pineapple Express is all about the script. Down to the relationship between Cole and Rosie Perez (who better have a comeback after her performance in this film), it’s absolutely perfect. I know Green did something–he got Franco his t-shirt design, for instance–but it seems like the script dictated the direction. There was only one way to do these scenes and the film does them in that way.
At the center–eventually–of Pineapple Express is the relationship between Rogen and Franco. The script gives the male friendship the language of a teenage romance, which works–both comedically and not. The film pushes the past the humor and stays with the approach. It isn’t for the one laugh, it’s for the entire film, which makes it rather affecting.
Danny McBride is really funny in the film’s flashiest role, but in terms of acting, Craig Robinson kind of runs away with the film. Every line reading he gives is fantastic and there’s a joy in waiting for him to appear and deliver another. Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. are also hilarious in small roles, again thanks to the script.
There’s a certain level a film like Pineapple Express can attain–and it does–so there’s a question to exactly how good of a film Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg can write. If they keep at this level, or even a little under, it’d be fine–there aren’t many new American films as good as this one–but I’m wondering if they’re capable of doing even better. I can’t wait to see what they do next….
I’ll probably still be laughing at jokes from Express until then.
Directed by David Gordon Green; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Judd Apatow, Rogen and Goldberg; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Craig Alpert; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Seth Rogen (Dale Denton), James Franco (Saul Silver), Danny McBride (Red), Kevin Corrigan (Budlofsky), Craig Robinson (Matheson), Gary Cole (Ted Jones), Rosie Perez (Carol), Ed Begley Jr. (Robert), Nora Dunn (Shannon), Amber Heard (Angie Anderson), Joe Lo Truglio (Mr. Edwards), Arthur Napiontek (Clark), Cleo King (Police Liaison Officer), Bill Hader (Private Miller) and James Remar (General Bratt).