I saw the newest Apatovian effort, Pineapple Express, at a Just for Laughs Film Festival press screening in Montreal. Directed by David Gordon Green, with a screenplay by Seth Rogen and his close friend Evan Goldberg (both of Superbad fame), Pineapple Express was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting the film to be silly, rude, immature, tripe, and common. And while it is silly, rude, and immature, it is also hilarious and happens to be neither common nor tripe. Now, I must admit that these odd Apatow-Seth Rogen 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.
Rogen and Goldberg's Pineapple Express screenplay was started when the duo, who grew up together in British Columbia, were in high school. 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. When Denton becomes witness to a murder committed by bossman Ted Jones (Gary Cole) he flees the scene, accidentally dropping his Pineapple Express-laced joint.
The problem is that Ted Jones is the supplier of Pineapple Express and Saul is the buyer who has received a shipment. Now, Saul and Denton must go on the run together as they try to dodge thugs Matheson (Craig Robinson) and Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan) while 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 even tragedy.
At 111 minutes, Pineapple Express just breezes by, never leaving this viewer waiting for expectations to be fulfilled simply because I had no idea what to expect. The actors give their all: James Franco shows off his comedic talents (not a surprise to those fans of Freaks and Geeks), Robinson and Corrigan offer great sidekick schtick, and Rogen, playing the (totally stoned) straight man pulls off his role with such an 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 usage the filmmakers leave that up to the audience.
Pineapple Express continues the train of thought found in other Apatovian films: it's a buddy comedy (pun somewhat intended) about pot smokers and dealers, which aims to bring something new to the action-comedy genre, a hard area in which to make watchable films. Get Smart, released earlier this summer, also attempted something similar, but it is a remake of a TV show so I don't quite count it. Beverly Hills Cop would be considered an action-comedy, and personally, I prefer Pineapple Express, as the latter film has more (funny) jokes per minute. (However, I am torn between which theme song is better: The “Axel F” theme song by Harold Faltermeyer or the “Pineapple Express” song by Huey Lewis and the News.)
In any case, the two films 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 genre, though Pineapple Express is a little riskier in terms of filmmaking. Rogen stated at the Just for Laughs conference that “I love action movies, and even though we knew Pineapple Express was going to be funny, we didn't want to make fun of action movies – we wanted to make an action movie. To make it funny, we added a silly twist to many of the sequences, but it's still exciting and awesome.”
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 were 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?)
Pineapple Express will definitely usher in a new wave of what's been labeled “bromantic comedies,” which mixes 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 Pineapple Express (and other films by this gang) should appeal to generations X, Y, and Z. Now, how are these guys able to gain such widespread appreciation? My theory is that the collaborations of Rogen and Goldberg with Apatow, who began working with Rogen on the short-lived but brilliant TV series Freaks and Geeks, have displayed a fine mixture of humor, pathos, and ethos.
For Pineapple Express, they threw into the mix indie director David Gordon Green – so that you really got something special happening. Green's attention to comic timing as well as to the characters' emotional involvements and to tense action scenes has earned Pineapple Express a spot among the great comedy classics. Green began making comedies in film school, where he met Danny McBride, who went on to act in those early films. (In the film's press release, Seth Rogen is quoted as saying that Green's directions included bits such as, “Say it like you've got ear wax in your mouth” or “Do it like a frustrated nun.”)
The script for Pineapple Express had been kicking around the studio system for a few years before it was finally given the green light following the success of Apatow's 40-Year-Old Virgin (which he wrote and directed) and Knocked Up. It was filmed at the same time as Superbad, which made me wonder when these guys are going to burn out.
Ignore the fact that the film's premise and title come from a particular strand of weed, for Pineapple Express is far from your average “stoner flick,” just as Knocked Up was not a romantic comedy, Superbad wasn't just a coming-of-age story, and 40-Year-Old Virgin wasn't just another predictable sex farce. Pineapple Express is as unique, quirky, and hilarious as the aforementioned films. Do you have to get high to enjoy it? No – but you might want to do so afterwards.
Coming up next for the gang is another Judd Apatow-scripted and -directed feature titled Funny People, starring Rogen, Adam Sandler (who was a roommate of Apatow's), Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife), and Jason Schwartzman. It is set for release in July 2009.
© Keith Waterfield
Pineapple Express (2008). Dir.: David Gordon Green. Scr.: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen; from a story by Goldberg, Rogen, and Judd Apatow. Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan.