- Pineapple Express (2008) movie review: More than a ”stoner comedy,” David Gordon Green’s romp starring James Franco and Seth Rogen is a surprisingly humorous mix of action and silliness.
Pineapple Express movie review: Silly & immature but hilarious comedy in the ‘pothead action’ sub-subgenre
Produced by Judd Apatow, directed by David Gordon Green, and with a screenplay by Seth Rogen and his close friend Evan Goldberg (both of Superbad fame), Pineapple Express was a pleasant surprise at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Film Festival.
I was expecting this Apatovian comedy to be silly, rude, immature, tripe, common. And while Pineapple Express is silly, rude, and immature, it’s also hilarious and happens to be neither common nor tripe.
That said, I must admit that these odd Seth Rogen-Judd Apatow ventures are a guilty pleasure. A funny Canadian with a beard (Rogen) and a guy who wants to make Hollywood more relaxed when it comes to seeing penises on screen (Apatow) appeal to my interests.
Potheads on the run
Rogen and Goldberg’s screenplay was started when the duo, who grew up together in British Columbia, were in high school. The script had been kicking around the studio system for a few years before it was finally given the green light following the success of director-writer-(co-)producer Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.
The plot follows Dale Denton (Rogen), a pot-loving process server whose dealer, Saul (James Franco), sells him the rarest crop of weed known to man: The Pineapple Express. The trouble begins when Denton becomes witness to a murder committed by bossman Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and accidentally drops his Pineapple Express-laced joint while fleeing the scene.
Crucial detail: Jones is the supplier of Pineapple Express and Saul is the buyer who has received a shipment.
Saul and Denton thus go on the run together as they try to dodge thugs Matheson (Craig Robinson) and Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan), while also looking for middle-man Red (Danny McBride of The Foot Fist Way) in order to shut him up before the thugs get to him.
At that point, the story evolves into a mad blend of comedy, action, and – unexpectedly – tragedy.
Is weed good for you?
At 111 minutes, Pineapple Express just breezes by.
The actors give their all: James Franco shows off his comedic talents (not a surprise to Freaks and Geeks fans); Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan offer some great sidekick schtick; and Seth Rogen, playing the stoned straight man pulls off his role with such ease that you may think he actually lived it.
I should add that while showing a high level of pot tolerance, Pineapple Express does not have a clear for or against stance on pot. Of course, the arguments are there to legalize the herb, but as for its use the filmmakers leave that up to the audience.
Effective action-comedy mélange
In other respects, Pineapple Express expands on the themes found in other Judd Apatow movies: It’s a buddy comedy about pot smokers and dealers that also aims to bring something new to the action-comedy genre, a hard field in which to make watchable movies.
Peter Segal’s Get Smart, released earlier this summer, also attempted something similar, but it’s a remake of a TV show. Martin Brest’s two-decade-old Beverly Hills Cop was a hugely popular action-comedy, but I prefer Pineapple Express as it has more – funny – jokes per minute. (I’m torn, however, between which theme song is better: Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” or Huey Lewis and the News’ “Pineapple Express.”)
In any case, the two movies aren’t really in the same league nor should they be compared; the only reason I’m doing so here is that they are the most recent comedies I’ve watched and both fall into the action-comedy subgenre – though Pineapple Express is a little riskier in terms of filmmaking.
Stunt coordinator Gary Hymes, whose credits include Jurassic Park, Speed, The Italian Job, and Jet Li’s The One, handled the action sequences, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge for they are meant to be character-driven as opposed to merely violent. After all, Pineapple Express focuses on two low-key guys who must fight themselves out of a dire situation for which they are neither physically equipped nor prepared. (That is, until they get a hold of firearms; but even then, do they know how to use them?)
More than a stoner flick
Now, Pineapple Express will definitely usher in a new wave of what’s been labeled “bromantic comedies,” a mixture of pot smoking, nudity, dick jokes, unhindered libidos, and uninhibited cursing. Many chalk off films like these as being made for teenage boys, and sure, they enjoy it too, but this particular effort (and other movies by this gang) should appeal to generations X, Y, and Z.
But how are these guys able to gain such widespread appreciation?
My theory is that the collaborations of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg with Judd Apatow, who began working with Rogen on the short-lived but brilliant TV series Freaks and Geeks, have come up with a fine combination of humor, pathos, and ethos.
Great comedy classic
In the case of Pineapple Express, they threw into the mix indie filmmaker David Gordon Green – so that you really get something special.
In the movie’s press release, Rogen is quoted as saying that Green’s directions included bits such as, “Say it like you’ve got ear wax in your mouth” and “Do it like a frustrated nun” – and it looks like that approach was effective. The director’s attention to comic timing, as well as to the action scenes and the characters’ inner workings, has definitely earned Pineapple Express a spot among the great comedy classics.
So, ignore the fact that the movie’s premise and title come from a certain strand of weed, for Pineapple Express is far from your average “stoner flick” – just as Knocked Up isn’t just a romantic comedy, Superbad isn’t just a coming-of-age story, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin isn’t just another predictable sex farce.
Lastly, an important question: Do you have to get high to enjoy it?
Answer: No. But you might want to do so afterwards.
Pineapple Express (2008)
Director: David Gordon Green.
Screenplay: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen.
From a screen story by Goldberg, Rogen, and Judd Apatow.
Cast: James Franco. Seth Rogen. Danny McBride. Gary Cole. Rosie Perez. Craig Robinson. Kevin Corrigan. Ed Begley Jr. Nora Dunn. Amber Heard. Arthur Napiontek. Bill Hader. James Remar. Connie Sawyer. Ken Jeong. David McDivitt.
“Pineapple Express Movie: Stoner Comedy Is Pleasant Surprise” review text © Keith Waterfield; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Pineapple Express (2008) Movie Review” endnotes
David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express earned James Franco a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy category.
Danny McBride was a Best Newcomer nominee at the Detroit Film Critics Awards.
Pineapple Express was reviewed at the Just for Laughs Film Festival in Montreal.
Bits featuring Justin Long and other performers were deleted from the final release print.
Seth Rogen and James Franco Pineapple Express movie images: Columbia Pictures.
“Pineapple Express Movie: Stoner Comedy Is Pleasant Surprise” last updated in November 2021.