Throughout the first act of Pineapple Express, the latest stoner-buddy comedy from the Judd Apatow camp, teddy bear Seth Rogen and drug dealer James Franco stumble, tumble and squabble like a postmodern Laurel and Hardy, to say nothing of Cheech and Chong. Accidentally thrust into the plot of a late-'80s Shane Black actioner (the villains are even outfitted like the baddies from The Last Boy Scout), the duo on the run improvise poorly thought-out plans of escape as they hide in dumpsters, sell pot to schoolkids, sleep in a car and try to pump information out of a friend who sold them out.
This portion is not only drop-dead funny, but also shines a mirror on crucial aspects of today's suburban-gangsta generation: If Quentin Tarantino's characters, with their stylish phrasing, talk the way the audience wishes they could, co-writer Rogen's heroes talk the way they actually do. It's the kind of speech that values encyclopedic pop-culture sentience rather than life experience, as well as logic over syntax ' the line 'I enjoy the drugs that you sellâ?� is somehow a pivotal line of dialogue, as is 'Fuck the police.â?�
The sequences leading up to the big confrontation are marvels of self-aware filmmaking, but, as in Shaun of the Dead, a similar exercise in post-parody, the plot must catch up with the characters at some point and the movie's genre be made clear. That's where the fun stops, because the characters are not playing with the idea of being stuck in a buddy movie, they are firmly ensconced in it, and the film's resignation is palpable. 'It's time to go to work now,â?� their expressions relay. 'Bummer.â?�
In the case of Pineapple Express, that work produces a labored standoff between the bowl-smoking duo and a goon squad impossibly stacked against them, including Gary Cole as the wonderfully '80s kingpin and The Office's brilliant Craig Robinson as a sensitive thug. At this point, the film loses its wind by becoming captive to its own joke. Yes, every action flick ends in a giant warehouse or factory, and so does this one, but having the crew wink about it doesn't make it any more enjoyable.
David Gordon Green was a curious choice of director. Green was an indie-film wunderkind who wrote and directed his debut (the fascinating George Washington) when he was 23 and followed it up with a heart-wrenchingly realistic portrayal of bumpkin love in All the Real Girls. Since then, however, his films have largely disappointed. While taking on Pineapple Express seems a bizarre way for Green to get his mojo back, it makes sense in a weed-hazy way. All the violence in Express is inelegant and hyperrealistic, like the director's tortured past characters. For all the film's guns 'n' glory, rarely does a direct shot to the head connect. Instead, Green's bullets graze an ear or blast a thigh; no punches are thrown that are knockout-worthy, but an ashtray to the eye does some damage.
Green maintains his commitment to real-world minutiae, but his leap into the Apatow genre indicates a disturbing reversal of maturity. Rogen might never grow up, and he's likable for it at this point, but for Green, Express is just a quarterlife crisis.