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08.13.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Dale Robinette
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES : Seth Rogen (left) and James Franco have fun with dope in 'Pineapple Express.'

Up in Smoke

'Pineapple Express' relives the stoner comedy of Cheech and Chong

By Richard von Busack


The classic black-and-white Columbia Lady logo turns up at the beginning of Pineapple Express, and you could hope that a Three Stooges short was packaged with the feature. It has the Stooges vibe, only without the Stooges rhythm. More tellingly, Pineapple Express is about in the same shape as an average Cheech and Chong film, though it's capped with a deliberately clumsy action finale, with explosions and gunfire. It's like an episode of So You Think You Can Fight? Likely, the Terrence Malick-like art-house director David Gordon Green got hired to add some grit to this frat-pack fluff. Unfortunately, probably for budgetary considerations, Pineapple Express was shot in L.A., disguised as some backward and corrupt "Clark County." I wish the cameras could have been taken into Green's corner of the world, some place with a lot more rust and salt damage.

Seth Rogen plays Dale, a wily process server who smokes dope on the job. As he must every now and again, he stops to visit his dealer Saul (James Franco), who is currently purveying a high-intensity smoke--"the dopest dope!"--called "Pineapple Express." Later, Dale witnesses a murder committed by a bent police officer (Rosie Perez), in cahoots with the town's big dealer (Gary Cole). The chase begins. Two thugs (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson) track both Dale and Saul with the forced help of the idiotic middleman Red (Danny R. McBride); the net widens and almost scoops up Dale's girlfriend (Amber Heard), an utter beard for the growing friendship between the leads.

Rogen, who co-wrote the script (based on an idea thought up with Judd Apatow), channels some of Albert Brooks' abrasive pusillanimousness; the bass-heavy, croaking voice and the air of selfishness are reliably funny. Just as a comedy depends on the flywheel effect of jokes at a regular pace, it seems like the filmmakers think Rogen is flywheeling from his success in Knocked Up. As befits his more famous status, he's doing less onscreen, like a star ought to do. But Rogen doesn't have a star's reservoirs to draw on. In scenes where Saul and Dale are stuck in the woods, Pineapple Express seems to be going round in circles. Franco, previously considered too James Dean-like to do comedy, is a comedic revelation as an awkward boy-man. It's a self-parodying role; every little thing tears him apart. Saul can't get his head around the fact that it's tough for a dealer and a customer to be friends: "dipping your pen in the company ink," is the way this dip phrases it.

As always in Apatowland, oldies music, thrift-shop T-shirts and movie tag lines are flaunted to get the crowd in the mood. The higher you got before you saw it, the more this loose, semi-improvised scripting appeals. The younger you are, the more hilarity you find in bearish male-bonding that always brinks on a make-out scene. Apatow is going to break the lever marked "Homosexual Panic" if he keeps leaning on it. Even if the characters are so adolescent they're practically pre-sexual, this film seems most female-comic-free of any of the Apatow-derived work. (Nora Dunn is in it for five minutes, but she gets no gags.) No news is it? It's another Apatow film full of bits that spin out until they chug to a stop right in front of you.


Movie Times PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (R; 111 min.), directed by David Gordon Green, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Judd Apatow, photographed by Tim Orr and starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, plays countywide.


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