Pineapple Express

Judd Apatow, Hollywood's reigning King of Comedy, adds another panel to his impressive, rapidly-growing oeuvre with “Pineapple Express,” a wild, raucous comedy that continues his genre-blurring work and at the same time pushes the format into the direction of action-adventure, with some violent sequences thrown into the mix.

“Pineapple Express” world-premiered at the In Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, Montreal and also played at Comic-Con, San Diego. Sony will release the picture theatrically August 6, and if word-of-mouth is any indication, the comedy should score strongly.

At this phase, Apatow is not only the most influential figure in the comedy genre, but a producer-impresario who puts his signature through various activities as producer-writer-director-mentor. He has let actors who do not look like stars such as Seth Rogen play leading roles–and romantic ones at that. More importantly, Apatow takes filmmakers associated with low-budget indie films and gives them a chance to reach wider audiences, a function he has fulfilled most successfully in “Superbad,” when he assigned the project to Greg Mottola until then known for his 1996 indie, “The Daytrippers.”

And now it seems to be the turn of David Gordon Green, a gifted helmer associated with intimate, moody indies (the Sundance Festival type), the best of which is still his debut “George Washington,” followed by “All the Real Girls” and most recently “Snow Angels,” all of which have played the festival circuit but failed to find viewers. Green's first effort at a genre film, “Undertow,” with Josh Lucas and Jamie Bell, was an artistic and commercial failure, but “Pineapple Express” should put him on the map as a more versatile director who can handle more mainstream fare (and hopefully not neglect entirely his indie roots).

Whose specific signature “Pineapple Express” bears Hard to tell. Most of the press for “Pineapple Express” has focused on its subject, as a wild dope/stoner comedy (with plenty of inside jokes), the kind of which has not been seen for a while. The scripters are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who were also behind “Superbad,” last summer's hit comedy, and Rogen co-stars, as he had in “Knocked-Up” and other Apatow productions.

The only element that's missing from Apatow's expanding oeuvre is a strong female presence, the exception being “Knocked-Up,” in which Katherine Heigl shared the bill in a major role. He is not alone in this–most comedies (and other genres) have continuously favored men, a bias that has persisted for decades in American cinema.

What Apatow does is not so much redefine genres as reinvent and update familiar formats, such as the sex-comedy in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the pregnancy-relationship serio-comedy in “Knocked-Up,” the raunchy-horny coming-of-age saga in “Superbad,” and now “Pineapple Express,” a combo of comedy and action in the manner of a buddy-buddy film, seen to an advantage in Martin Brest's 1988 “Midnight Run” (1988), starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, and its many imitators.

According to Apatow, the inspiration came from Brad Pitt's stoner character in “True Romance,” the 1993 crime drama directed by Tony Scott and penned by Tarantino. Says the producer about Pitt's bit part: “I thoughs it would be funny to make a whole movie in which you follow that character out of his apartment and watch him get chased by bad guys.”

Indeed, the premise of the new picture is rather simple. it's the subplots, colorful secondary characters, sight gags, and slapstick antics that make it successful and stand out from the pack. Two lazy guys, layabout-losers par excellence, are on the lam, trying to escape a band of vicious killers. Seth Rogen plays process server Dale Denton, a chubby, ordinary looking guy who holds a “business relationship” with his laconic, longhaired pot dealer Saul Silver, played by James Franco. Dale buys Sauls prime product, a high-grade rare new strain of pot called Pineapple Express (A wonderful one-liner describes the brand, but you need to hear it for yourself-with an audience).

When Dale becomes the only witness to a murder by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez, in a bravura turn) and the citys dangerous drug lord (Gary Cole), he panics and carelessly dumps the dope at the scene. Rather quickly, the good stuff is traced back, which means that Saul and Dale have to run for their lives.

From that point on, the narrative assumes the shape of a road comedy, in which sheer survival is the order of the day. Along the way, they encounter the honchos of the evil drug lord Ted (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson), Saul's presumably loyal buddy Red (Danny McBride), the parents (Ed Begley Jr., Nora Dunn) of the teenage girl Angie (Amber Head), whom Dale had courted earlier.

Gradually, the Odd Couple discovers that theyre not just suffering from weed paranoia but share other characteristics in common that may turn them into honest friends. But it's the journey, the odyssey that counts, peppered with slapstick comedy, sight gag, rituals of male bonding, and sessions, monologues and dialogues about dope-smoking, some of which hilarious.

Most of Apatow's films are sweet yarns about horny but romantic young males who refuse or can't grow up (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), raunchy tales of friendship, endearing and heartfelt sagas of male camaraderie that's put to test under varying conditions only to deepen and be reaffirmed as a positive, even redemptive life force. “Pineapple Express” is no exception-it only ups the Apathow ante when battle and violence sequences are concerned.

In this picture, not only director Green is stretching, but his actors too. Rogen is fast becoming a reliable actor who can hold his own against any co-star. To steal scenes from the enormously likable Rogen is not an easy task-and yet that's what Franco does in several scenes.

Franco and Danny McBride are the revelations of this movie. You may recall that Franco began his career in Apathow's short-lived show “Freaks and Geeks,” in 1999, in which he teamed with Rogen. The good chemistry between the two thespians was evident in that show.

Franco then rendered a brilliant, somber portrait of James Dean in Mark Rydell's TV movie of that title. However, over the past few years, he appeared in various films that only partially displayed his considerable talent, such as whining son in the “Spider-Man” franchise, or as Robert De Niro's son in the melodrama, “City by the Sea.” In “Pineapple Express,” everything is right about him, from the physical look to the gestures to the stoned demeanor and often-hilarious monologues. (Franco reminded me of the great part the young Sean Penn played, the perpetually stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli, in Amy Heckerling's 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”)

As a friend named Red whose motivations are unclear and whose values and identities are shifting (to say the least), McBride is equally terrific. McBride will be seen a week after this movie opens in the satire “Tropical Thunder” and then in “The Foot Fist Way,” and I predict a bright future for him.

In the past, most of Apatow's productions lacked a distinctive look, a discernible visual style, and in this respect, “Pineapple Express” is an improvement, perhaps a result of the contribution of helmer Green and his frequent collaborator, Tim Orr. The movie begins with a black-and-white prologue set in the 1930s, and throughout there's greater attention to cutting and framing, and presentation of montages set to music, though, like other Apatow's productions, the picture is a tad too long (Running time is 112 minutes).

Perhaps under pressure to justify it, the movie wears its R-rating as a badge of honor, and the fights are more graphic than is the norm in comedies, with a number of gruesome shooting and stabbing and big explosions. One particular sequence will inevitably be compared to the horrific climax in Tarantino's “Reservoir Dogs.”

Apatow has said that his dope comedy is sort of a message picture, that nothing really good comes out of smoking. And, indeed, there is a cautionary warning against pot and its potential harmful effects on adolescents that may be taken as self-serving by some viewers.

Despite the dope and the violence, “Pineapple Express” is not a particularly outr or audacious work, but it represents an effective blend of genres, in which the acting of the entire ensemble is superb. End result is a feel-good picture in the positive sense of the term.


Dale Denton – Seth Rogen
Saul Silver – James Franco
Ted Jones – Gary Cole
Carol/Female Cop – Rosie Perez
Red – Danny McBride
Budlofsky – Kevin Corrigan
Matheson – Craig Robinson
Angie Anderson – Amber Heard
Robert – Ed Begley Jr.
Shannon – Nora Dunn
Bobby – Bobby Lee
General Bratt – James Remar


A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with Relativity Media, of an Apatow Co. production.
Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson. Executive producers, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Co-producer, Dara Weintraub.
Directed by David Gordon Green.
Screenplay, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg; story, Judd Apatow, Rogen, Goldberg.
Camera: Tim Orr.
Editor: Craig Albert.
Music: Graeme Revell.
Music supervisor: Jonathan Karp.
Production designer: Chris Spellman.
Art director: Marc Dabe.
Set decorator: Robert Kensinger.
Costume designer: John Dunn.
Sound: Christopher Gebert; supervising sound editors, George Anderson, Michael O'Farrell.
Visual effects supervisor: Dave Johnson.
Visual effects: Yard VFX, Pacific Vision Prods. Stunt coordinators: Gary M. Hymes, Mike Smith.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 112 Minutes.