Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ridin' that Train . . .

I'm so glad I saw Pineapple Express on "Free Popcorn" day at my local multiplex. This movie gave me the most serious case of the munchies in recent memory, which the possible exception of the desperate need I developed for chocolate during a viewing of Chocolat.

With that said, Pineapple Express is the Toyota Prius of movies right now, a hybrid film combining the typical stoner comedy with an action buddy flick. It tells the story of schlubby Dale Denton (played by schlubby Seth Rogen), a process server who spends 99% of his days smoking weed that he buys from Saul, played by James Franco. While he is enjoying a doob rolled from the very rare and very potent strain of weed called Pineapple Express (thus the title) that he just bought from Saul, Dale witnesses a murder -- a murder committed, coincidentally enough, by Saul's supplier Ted. Dale panics and takes off, throwing out his roach in the process. Ted, of course, recognizes the weed in the roach and sends his goons out to kill Dale. The rest of the movie is pretty much Dale and Saul fleeing from the assassins.

It's a thin plot to be sure, but the comedy that is mined from this situation hits its mark a good portion of the time. Rogen and Franco have a laid back comic timing, and a lot of the humor can be found in their rather awkward interaction with each other. To Dale, Saul is just his dealer and the time they spend together is only the result of Dale's need for weed. To Saul, their relationship is a friendship, and Franco plays Saul's vulnerability with heart and humor. When Danny McBride's Red (the middle man between Ted and Saul) enters the mix, the awkward humor intensifies to the point where it's almost painful. McBride is not in the movie nearly as much as the poster for the film would imply, but the scenes that he is in belong solely to him and he manages to nearly steal the film and establish himself as a rising comic star.

This movie is full of scene stealers, though, including Gary Cole who plays Ted with a gleeful villainy that masks its own awkwardness and Craig Robinsonof The Office fame as a super sensitive assassin. Ultimately, though, this movie belongs to James Franco who breaks from the pretty boy stereotype to give a goofy, charming performance that dominates the movie. You feel for Saul, whose perpetually stoned grin mask a good guy whose heart is in the right place and who dreams of more than just selling drugs. He is loyal and principled, reacting with hurt when people don't act with those same principles.

This is not to take anything away from Seth Rogen. Rogen is a reliable, engaging comic presence who finds humor in words. I guess I just couldn't help but thinking that Rogen's Dale was pretty much the same character we've seen from Rogen over and over again, going all the way back to his debut performance as Ken on Freaks and Geeks. It's a great character, but it's not really anything new. Rogen is giving us something we know (and know well) whereas Franco is shedding our preconceived notions about him and breaking new ground for us. Franco is a surprise; Rogen is routine.

Pineapple Express does grow a little long (which can be said for just about any movie with Judd Apatow's name attached to it) and credibility becomes stretched in the final act showdown between Saul, Dale, Ted, and a group of scary Asians. Overall, though, it's probably the funniest movie of the summer (although I'm waiting to see Tropic Thunder this weekend before I make any definitive statements like that) and worth the trip to the multiplex -- even if it's NOT "Free Popcorn" Day!

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