In spite of what seems to be an ever-growing backlash, I’m a perennial sucker for movies made by the Judd Apatow mafia. Every one of their films looks like they all called each other up and asked “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a movie. You wanna goof off with the boys for a month and get paid for it?” It’s almost like watching a couple swing dance; it looks like the most fun thing people could to together, and I just wish I could do it that well myself. With the accidental blockbuster success of last year’s Superbad, our friends at Sony Pictures and Apatow Productions try their hand at a real action blockbuster with this summer’s Pineapple Express
Pineapple Express is the boys’ first foray into genre films, rather than their standard “a bunch of guys standing around talking shit,” format. It is the story of Dale Denton (Rogen), mild mannered process server and stoner extraordinaire. When he’s not tricking people into accepting their subpoenas, he’s getting high and listening to talk radio in his car. After a visit to his drug dealer Saul (Franco), and equiped with the rarest, most exclusive weed in the state, Dale decides to smoke a joint in his car outside the home of his next subpoenaed target. While doing so, he witnesses a murder, is seen by the bad guys, and goes to Saul’s for help. When they realize that they might have been followed, and how serious the danger they’re in is, thus begins an absurd game of cat and mouse. That is, if the mice were high, and the cats were idiots.
This movie contains all of the elements that helped make the stories in the previous films so easy for audiences to connect with. A couple of guys whose jobs don’t require any real effort or attention get in over their heads in a situation out of their realm of experience. Only this time there are guns. Dale and Saul bumble their way in and out of gigantic fight scenes, car chases, and shootouts, and by the end of the film they’ve really bonded, and shown us how two men can be really close to each other without actually being gay.
Seth Rogen and James Franco, Apatow veterans all the way back from Freaks and Geeks, head up the cast with perfect chemistry. It’s clear that they’re both familiar with the relationship between stoners and an overly friendly drug dealer. Their casual scenes, before things get crazy, are full of an awkward tension that only makes its way to television programs like The Office, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where more humor is found in the characters responses to each other than the joke on the page. Their rhythm is fluid enough to really immerse us in the scene rather than focus on the jokes.
The rest of the cast is fleshed out by a nice combination of Apatow regulars like Bill Heder (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Gary Cole (Talladega Nights), Kevin Corrigan (Superbad), and Craig Robinson (Knocked Up, The Office), as well as cameos from a handful of people you wouldn’t expect to find in one of his pictures, like Rosie Perez, Ed Begley Jr., James Remar.
Speaking of actors new to the gang, if this summer is any indication, Danny McBride is the next big thing in comedy. On top of releasing his own movie The Foot Fist Way, this summer he’s co-starred in Tropic Thunder, Drillbit Taylor, Pineapple Express, and is lined up to co-star in the next Will Ferrell outing, The Land of the Lost. If anyone’s ever walked out of a Judd Apatow movie feeling like they could be one of those guys, they now need only look to this man. Danny McBride came out of nowhere as a replacement for an actor who dropped out of David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls, and apparently just by being funny enough to amuse all his big shot Hollywood friends, has convinced them all to make him a star. It seems redundant to call him a great comedic relief actor, considering all the films he’s in are comedies, but he nails it. He brings a secondary type of humor to the films he’s in that really allows him to stand out as a performer rather than just to hold up the rest of the cast.
Also new to the gang is director David Gordon Green (Undertow, Snow Angels). Green is known for his independent drama films, which are slow, melancholy, and mundane but in a good way. Honestly. And though there’s nothing particularly special about the direction of the straight dialogue scenes, though it’s clear that when it came to the action segments of the film he brought a great deal of enthusiasm to the table. The fight scenes are all heavily influenced by They Live, and the scope of the shootout scenes show that his vision is much bigger than simple two-shots of people talking. Though they lack the style of the shootouts in, say, Hot Fuzz. But its his ability to make us feel intimate with the characters between these scenes that keep us involved with the movie until it reaches these parts.
Pineapple Express doesn’t stumble on the widely known pitfalls common in Judd Apatow comedies; there’s no high moral argument being examined, and it remains under two hours, not weighing itself down with extra scenes of improvisation by the actors. The films biggest flaw, though, is that about two thirds of the way into the film, it changes its tone entirely. After setting up this totally believable world where these characters are absolutely relatable, it turns on a dime, focuses on the action entirely. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does pull you out of the moment to think, “wait a second they just murdered a dozen people! What?!?” It’s not the only ludicrous part of the movie, but it definitely looks like a plot hole to me.
Pineapple Express is not the best of these guys’ catalogue of work, but it definitely holds its own among it. It maintains a strong sense of fun and lightheartedness, providing us with off kilter jokes, pop culture references, and a fun twist on standard movie devices we love that are ripe for parody. And even if you’re not interested in this film, it’s worth it just to see Ed Begley Jr. brandish a shotgun and yell “I will take you out and fuck you in the street!”