Dir. David Gordon Green. US. 2008. 112 mins.
Pineapple Expressfinds the Judd Apatow team - with arthouse director David Gordon Green as an unlikely new member - blending stoner humour and high-stakes action to produce an uneven but sometimes very funny toke of summer comedy. Co-written by and co-starring Apatow stalwart Seth Rogen (with Apatow himself producing), the new offering may be a touch too druggy to match the success of their Knocked Up and Superbad, or of mainstream action comedies such as the Rush Hour movies. But it’s funny enough often enough to become one of Team Apatow’s stronger box office performers and most substantial video hits.
Columbia opens this R-rated film in North America on August 8, almost the same slot as last summer’s Superbad. Pineapple, though, will have to follow Apatow’s Step Brothers into the marketplace and will have only a week to establish itself with a core audience of college-age moviegoers before the arrival of Ben Stiller action comedy Tropic Thunder.
Apatow projects rarely work as well outside the US, but Pineapple’s action elements might give it more of a chance. And with international openings mostly slated for early autumn, Sony Pictures Releasing International should have time to refine marketing campaigns to fit local tastes.
Rogen and his Superbad co-writer Evan Goldberg introduce Dale Denton (Rogen) as a reluctant but efficient process-server who stops off for the odd spliff and to visit his high-school girlfriend. Dale has a fair-weather friendship with perpetually stoned pot dealer Saul (James Franco), who supplies him with a rare new strain of weed called Pineapple Express.
When Dale witnesses drug lord Ted (Gary Cole) and a crooked female cop (Rosie Perez) murdering an underworld rival, the criminals use a Pineapple Express roach to trace him back to Saul. Dale and Saul go on the run, putting their friendship to the test while they struggle to stay ahead of the bad guys.
Green is best known for downbeat dramas (his acclaimed debut George Washington; this spring’s Snow Angels) so perhaps it’s not surprising that the mix of genres here isn’t always smooth and that the film never feels as sure-footed as the classic action comedies - Apatow has cited Midnight Runand Pulp Fiction - that appear to have inspired it.
The comedy scenes - most of them turning on Dale and Saul’s stoned ramblings or their tussles with eccentric dope middleman Red (Danny McBride) and Ted’s Tarantino-esque pair of henchmen - work best. Green’s feel for heightened naturalism gives the comedy an unexpected sheen (even the slapstick looks real) and the male bonding that develops between Dale, Saul and Red gives the film that characteristic Apatow sweetness.
The action sequences - including a decent and quite funny car chase and an explosive gunfight climax - are less effective and there are couple of jarringly violent moments.
Rogen is solid in the kind of unassuming everyman role that has become his on-screen niche while Spider-Man 3’s Franco (who was a regular on Apatow’s early TV series Freaks And Geeks) displays an unexpected comic gift as the seriously out-of-it Saul. McBride (who next appears in Tropic Thunder) also stands out, giving the film some enjoyably off-kilter comic moments.
Columbia/Sony Pictures Releasing Intern ational
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg