The script for Pineapple Express, by Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, takes a little bit of Harold and Kumar and mixes it with a little bit of Lethal Weapon to come up with a movie that’s both a drug comedy and a high-octane action flick. But it never comes together as a full on action comedy really, the movie’s action scenes never quite seem to fit together with its comedy scenes. That’s a problem. The most surprising thing here isn’t the amount of weed smoked by the movie’s leads, or the number of bad guys they take out, but how formulaic it all ends up feeling.
Here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong, for anyone who’s seen the Pineapple Express trailers. They’re great, and if you remember anything about them you probably remember the music, a song called “Paper Planes” by the group M.I.A. The song is used so effectively in the trailer that it’s become almost a signature for the film’s marketing, it drives the pacing of the trailer, it’s the perfect soundtrack for an edgy, action-stoner movie. Well the song is not in the movie… or if it is, it’s so underutilized I simply didn’t notice it. Alright, understandable. More often than not, the music used in a trailer is not the same music used in the film. So what is in the soundtrack? Nothing. It’s a dead end. Oh there’s some random, banal background music in most of the scenes, but nothing memorable. Looking at the tunes actually on the Pineapple Express soundtrack for sale on Amazon.com, it looks good in theory, but in context I don’t remember hearing even one of those songs. The music plays no role in driving the story, they might as well have used elevator music. This is a picture that deserves cool music, it needs cool music front and center. It doesn’t get it. In fact it doesn’t get anything. It’s like the soundtrack doesn’t even try. All the pizzazz and style of the trailer is only for the trailer. All the sharp cuts, the trendy music, the quick comedy jabs… in the film it’s watered down and slowed down to fit into a fairly standard three act formula. Whatever it was that made the trailers so unique and interesting is completely absent in the film. What’s galling about that is it would have been so easy to add, at the least, that musical layer into the movie. Just hit the internet and throw in a few cool indie bands. Or maybe time the usage of the ones they have better. Pineapple Express doesn’t make the effort.
I’m not saying there aren’t laughs in Pineapple Express, there are. It’s just not as fresh and exciting as you’d hope for from a movie with an Apatow, Rogen, Franco pedigree. It’s disappointing how many of the jokes you’ll see coming, even though you may chuckle anyway. It’s a waste too, since Rogen and Franco really are the perfect leads for this type of film. They should be able to go toe to toe with the likes of Harold & Kumar, but the script leaves them hanging at second best. It feels like there’s another level the movie could have gone to, but for some reason didn’t.
What Pineapple Express does deliver is a fairly simple movie about two stoners on the run from the mob. Seth Rogen is a process server named Dale who accidentally witnesses a murder. Scared, for some inexplicable reason he runs to the house of his pot dealer Saul (James Franco). The mob comes looking for both of them, and they take off. We follow them around as they try to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes that means engaging in car chases, sometimes it means hanging out in the woods. Rogen and Franco have instant chemistry together, probably fueled by their long personal and professional relationship. Special praise should be given to Franco, for finally abandoning the pretty boy image he’s been cultivating in his more recent films in favor of playing a grungy, disgusting loser. The male model thing never really suited him anyway.
They run from the bad guys, they shoot bad guys, they smoke some weed and then call it a day. In there are a few funny scenes and some great third-banana work by Danny McBride, but probably nothing you’ll remember very far beyond the theater. A weird sub-plot involving Rogen dating a high-school girl never seems to go anywhere, though it does eventually pay off in one funny phone call. The finale… the best I can say for it is that it’s full of fire. Literal fire, not energetic, metaphysical fire. For most of the movie things are carried along by the interplay between Rogen and Franco, but since this is supposed to be an action movie it has to end with a big, explosion filled shoot-out. It does, and unfortunately it does so at the expense of being funny. Maybe it was that finale which did me in. The explosions were nice, but the gunplay is intentionally hokey in some weird, misplaced attempt to turn into a satire that never truly works. It's never easy to satirize other action movies while at the same time being an action movie yourself. It’s like trying to scratch your head and rub your stomach, except not nearly as funny. Pineapple Express lacks the coordination to pull it off.
I enjoyed Pineapple Express for what it was, it’s just not very much. The cast delivers, Green’s direction is adequate, and the script is, I suppose, adequate. Adequate. That’s a pretty good description for what’s going on here. It’s neither a great comedy or a great action movie, it’s an adequate version of both. Maybe you need to be high. Somebody pass me a blunt.