Dale (Rogen), a slacker who prefers weed to work, witnesses a murder and is traced by the killer, thanks to the rare marijuana his dealer Saul (Franco) sold him - the titular Pineapple Express. So Dale and Saul go on the run with the bad guys in hot pursuit...
If we were to get through a review of Pineapple Express without making some kind of play on drugs and associated paraphernalia, we would have our keyboards confiscated for crimes against easy gags. So, let’s get it out of the way early. Pineapple Express is a high old time. It’s smokin’. Side-spliffing. Weed recommend it. A lot of bong for your buck. Midnight Run meets Last Boy Scout, recast with Cheech and Chong...
So that’s that done - it’s a pun-free zone from now on.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s second co-writing project, Pineapple Express is a perfect companion-piece to Superbad, their first. It walks the same path between buddy comedy and heterosexual man-love rom-com, a blizzard of gags distracting the audience from a frequent lack of focus. Even the dynamic is similar, with a fairly straight-laced loser (in this case, Rogen’s good-hearted but useless process server) trying to temper the hare-brained schemes of his socially maladjusted buddy (James Franco’s bleary drug dealer). Pineapple Express is directed by David Gordon Green, a man who usually makes slow films about people having lots of feelings in ugly houses. If you’ve seen any of his previous works, be it the powerful George Washington, or the more ponderous Malick-lite of Undertow, then he is the last person you’d expect to see making a silly drug comedy about a pair of stoners who go on the run after witnessing a murder. In truth, there’s very little to identify this as a Gordon Green film. There’s the same casual attitude to getting on with the story, and a familiar earthy look, but there the trademarks stop. It’s hardly a bad thing: who wants a comedy to stop while someone has an anguished think and considers the sky?
But Gordon Green is an actors’ director, and that’s what he brings to this party, making Rogen a more rounded character than we usually see from this charming but unlikely leading man. He still does his share of bellowing in that Fozzy-Bear’s-angrier-brother way, but also has quieter moments, and comes off extremely likable - even more so than in Knocked Up.
Franco is the best he’s been. Usually seen scowling in serious films, or scowling and wearing polo necks in Spider-Man movies, here he’s let loose - waaaay loose. His ultra-laidback drug dealer is hilarious, but also as innocent as a puppy. His chief concerns are looking after his granny and securing his next hit. He’s not the sweary, untrustworthy pothead writers usually plump for, inspired instead by Brad Pitt’s Floyd in True Romance. That’s exactly how he plays it - a man to whom the world that exists beyond his sofa is strange and confusing.
The chemistry between Rogen and Franco is effortless. Let’s be clear: this film is extremely silly, building action sequences around two characters for whom athleticism is to be avoided at all costs, and casting Rosie Perez (who has forgotten to age in her time out of the spotlight) as a gun-toting villain. Yet the leads make it ring true, or as true as the sight of a 16-stone man in underpants and a blazer, carrying a pyjama-clad hippy out of a burning building can ring. The laughs aren’t particularly sophisticated, but there’s a kind of brilliance in the pickles that Rogen and Goldberg find for their characters. There’s a point near the end where they lose sight of what makes them appealing, morphing them into capable action heroes and detracting from their stumbling appeal, but by then you’ll be so crippled by giggles that it’s difficult to muster the will to object.
Fans of David Gordon Green, you may well leave feeling confused. Fans of daft laughs and James Franco, youre in for one of the funniest comedies of the year.