Monday, August 11, 2008

Pineapple Express

David Gordon Green is one of the best filmmakers working today who some have even compared to the visual poet and master Terrence Malick. Would you have ever guessed that him and his friends that met at North Carolina Film School (his DP Tim Orr and the actor Danny McBride) wold collaborate with the Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen on a pot comedy? Yeah, it's a little surreal, but when I saw the red-band trailer for this movie months ago, I knew that these two camps couldn't miss if they were to collaborate. Pineapple Express is a perfect example of a visual poet adding his touches to a commercial Judd Apatow produced "bro-romance" . It's a film filled with surprises and the usual pot-fueled comedy routines, but it is all done with such visual beauty, a fresh take on things like car chases and people sitting around smoking pot, and it all ends with a subtle joke that seems to have been missed by many.


Jim Emerson on his scanners blog hit the nail right on the head with his analysis of the film. Check it out after you see the movie.  The reason I bring it up is because I am surprised by how many critics missed the joke of the film. The film itself is about as simple as you can get, and that's mainly because the joke of the movie is that this is exactly the type of movie that these two stoners would conjure up on their stained couches.

The story is about Dale Denton (Rogen) a process server who witnesses a murder. He leaves a joint behind and that's how Ted (the always brilliant Gary Cole) can trace the weed back to Dale's supplier Saul Silver who is the only person who has the particular type of weed that Dale was smoking (called pineapple express). This all leads to a horribly convoluted buddy chase movie in the vein of 70's movies like What's Up Doc? or anything by Cheech and Chong. But really the fact the story is so convoluted is irrelevant, because well, that's point. When the film stops being a pot movie and turns into a full blown action film from the 80's -- that's your sign to stop taking the film at face value.

Now it's not irreverent or obviously winking at the camera like the old Abrahms and Zucker Brothers movies, but if you understand what is being done in the final moments of the film, it makes the movie so much more enjoyable. Sitting there in the theater I couldn't stop laughing as Green and Apatow (and screenwriter Rogen) riffed on the conventional car chase ("just kick it with your foot, isn't that what they do in the movies?" "But how do you drive with only one foot?") or other exchanges like the morning after the big final showdown with all the drug dealers. They sit around eating a greasy breakfast and discussing how awesome everything was and who did what and how great it was when they did this...and you get the point.

Let's talk about that ending: for me it was one of the greatest things I have seen in a comedy in a long time. Better than the Michael Bay-parodied Hot Fuzz, the end of Pineapple Express is an olio of ever 1980's and early 90's action film I grew up watching. In this final scene, which takes place in an abandon barn complete with multiple levels and secret doors, I was reminded of the first two Lethal Weapon films (someone gets shot as they stand on a metal grate and then fall over and get their leg caught in a chain and swing from side to side, but sadly James Franco doesn't tell anyone to "go spit"), Double Impact or any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie for that matter (Seth Rogen and Gary Cole have an incredibly long fight scene plus there are barrels! If you've seen those movies, you know what I mean), any thing made by John Woo, I saw some Predator, some Commando, anything with Segal or Chuck Norris, any straight to video movie with ninjas or Billy Blanks, and I could go on...

The point is that these are all references that Rogen and Apatow and Green wanted to install into their film because this is how they think these two characters Dale and Saul would expereicne something like this. There is no reveal at the end of the movie that lets you know it was all a hazy brainstorm while they sat on the couch and smoked Saul's innovative "cross doobie" or that they were just dreaming this thing up all along in some passed out reverie. That's what makes the joke so great, because there is no way that one can watch this film with a straight face. I was surprised to hear Michael Philips and Richard Roeper the other night talking about how they were disappointed in the film and how ugly and violent it was at the end, and how it didn't match the tone. I was surprised they missed the joke, especially Roeper seeing how later in the show he recommended the brutally violent and gratuitous Hell Ride. I think they wanted the film to be something it was never intended to be, and Philips got it right when he said that the filmmakers are not at all interested in the commercial appeal of the film. It's all an in-joke, and I for one found it hilarious.

It's almost impossible to conventionally review this film (which I am not trying to do), but it all works if you find the references funny. It also works if you just like stoner comedies; the character of Red (Danny McBride) is bound to get some laughs, as well as Gary Cole asking "has anyone seen my big knife" as he holds a giant machete. But the finest joke is the fact that David Gordon Green directed this film, and the way he has cinematogrpaher Tim Orr shoots the final action scene (he shoots it in a style that is a straight throwback to 80's action movies, everything from the two main characters splitting up so they can have their own final showdowns with the villains they match up with, to the scene where someone rolls on the ground shooting a bunch of people and said shot people keep shooting their guns in the air.) is one of the best jokes in movies this summer, and one of the best comedies that Apatow and Rogen have collaborated on.

Oh yeah, and James Franco steals the movie...every scene belongs to him.


  1. My buddy had to drag me to Pineapple Express because I didn't want to pay full price. Turns out it was definitely worth the money.

    As it transformed into an action movie, I began to catch on to what was really happening. Obscene amounts of automatic was awesome! To be brutally honest, the only thing missing was some random nudity.