Not too harsh anybody's mellow, but Pineapple Express at first glance looked like a big fat summer comedy joint, but, on closer examination, it's nothing more than some skunky stems and seeds. Sorry, Seth Rogen fans, the bubble had to burst eventually. With last year's killer combo of Knocked Up and Superbad, Rogen, 26, emerged as the new boy genius of comedy, and began emerging from under Svengali Judd Apatow's huge shadow and into the leading-man spotlight. When not on camera he's also a burgeoning screenwriter and producer, assuming an auteur's mantle that might be too weighty for even his hefty shoulders. It seems that Rogen has gained enough clout to get his own way, and the creative elbow room to stretch, which is good except that no one seems willing to tell him no. In the case of Pineapple, that means a script that puts the "high" back into "high concept," one that begins with loads of quality giggles, then in a predictably stoner-like manner, meanders and drifts into bizarre tangents until the buzz is gone.
Rogen stars as Dale Denton, an amiably shiftless process server who's not really bothered by the vaguely shady nature of his line of work, since he gets to wear a tie and pose as a grown-up. He's also only mildly troubled that his girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard) hasn't yet finished high school, though he's annoyed by the beefy jocks who swarm all around her locker. Dale's just happy to have a gig that pays him enough to afford his other passion: weed. He shares this special joy (and a love for reruns) with his genial dealer Saul (James Franco), who is the sole local source for the mind-blowing herb of the title. After an extended game of puff-puff-pass, and some of the funniest dope dialogue since Cheech met Chong, Dale heads back to work, and is promptly witness to a murder. It turns out the triggerman is the area drug kingpin (played listlessly by Gary Cole), who, through a string of coincidences, identifies Dale by the discarded roach he drops in the driveway. From here, the movie segues into full-on action mode, though not the sort of breezy change pulled off by, say, Stripes.
As Dale and Saul get in deeper and deeper trouble, the stakes escalate, and the violence ratchets up, while the comedy keeps on rolling. It's an uncomfortable fit, as the characters continue to make wisecracks while the bullets fly. Some of those bullets land with deadly accuracy, and some of them appear to hit with the impact of a water balloon, as certain characters catch more lead then 50 Cent, and seem none the worse for wear. The tone is a mess, a Tarrantino ultra-lite muddle that aims for True Romance but often plays like Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Micro indie-director David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) is an odd choice for this gig, he's tremendous with the character work, but is out of his depth with the action. Perhaps this risky, chaotic mix is the future, and someday Pineapple Express will be a cult classic, and doubters merely buzz-killers, but it's safe to exhale until then.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].