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Non-Review Review: Pineapple Express

Ah, the almost forgotten stoner movie subgenre. Well, except for Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies and its sequel. Okay, well, you get the idea. Pineapple Express isn’t the best movie to emerge from the Judd Atapow machine, nor is it the worst. Despite a lengthy introduction and setup, it did manage to illicit a few giggles and to amuse for the bones of two hours (which may have been just a little too long).

Their bark is worse than their bite...

Their bark is worse than their bite...

The movie is somewhat interesting because  despite its positioning itself as a stoner buddy comedy in the vein of Cheech and Chong, it actually works much better as an eighties-style action spoof – right down to its “lead character witnesses a murder” plot device through to the film’s ridiculously overly-violent ways of killing off persistent (yet sissy) villains.

The film takes a while to start laying on the humour (early scenes seem to by trying, but falling flat) and the movie only really kickcs off once the two leads find themselves on the run from drug dealers and crooked cops. I’m not sure if this is down to the script (co-written by Seth Rogan) or the direction, but the film is far more comfortable with humour in its action sequences, like a fantastic cross-city cop car chase complete with James Franco’s foot through a window and all the requisite stunts (with screaming).

Despite the fact that their early scenes don’t sizzle with humour, the two leads – Seth Rogan and James Franco – do have chemistry. Although Franco is the stronger performer of the two, and the only one playing outside his comfort zone (Rogan was still on a hot streak of loveable losers), both work well in combination (and play stoned very well) and manage to convince as two almost regular guys way out of their depth. The addition of the somewhat requisite third guy (who, in a bona fides action movie like Lethal Weapon, would be the comic relief) in Danny McBride also works really well. He’s given more to work with here than he has been in his other mainstream releases and he delivers – I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.

Maybe part of the reason that the movie works better later on is because it becomes a lot more ambiguous on marajuana usage. At the start, as we follow the erstwhile pot-smoking hero, the movie looks set to shove a pro-legalisation point of view down our throats. It’s very hard to do a comedy ascribing to a particularly political perspective well (just ask An American Carol), and it’s a lot easier to get laughs by simply sitting in the middle and mocking every side of the debate (which is why Team America works so well). While the movie makes the case that most pot users are harmless, it also suggests that there are some situations where a clear head might come in handy.

The movie works when it takes its premise to an absurd extreme – certain characters simply won’t die because things need to be bigger and badder, or the existence of a top-secret milatary bunker bringing a whole new meaning to a weapons-grade high, or even the introduction in stark black-and-white done in the style of a 1950s movie serial with a one-eyed commander (I’m not sure why it’s set in 1937) – rather than relying on simple buddy comedy tropes. It’s also nice to see the drug-buyer/drug-dealer relationship explored through the lens of a comedy (“They think they’re your friend, but they’re not!”)

It’s not a classic comedy, and it’s certainly not the best stoner movie you’ll ever see, but it has its charm and its sense of humour. I can see this bad boy becoming something of a cult classic.

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