Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pineapple Express: A total lemon

Pineapple Express (2008) • View trailer for Pineapple Express
One star (out of five). Rating: R, for drug use, violence and relentless profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.14.08
Buy DVD: Pineapple Express • Buy Blu-Ray: Pineapple Express (Unrated + BD Live) [Blu-ray]

Alas, the Judd Apatow Express has been derailed.

Whether functioning as producer, writer or director, Apatow's recent efforts as a one-man movie machine have fallen into three categories: the good (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), the enjoyably bad (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and the profoundly ugly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Drillbit Taylor, You Don't Mess with the Zohan).
Convinced that they've been identified to a dangerous drug baron, Saul (James
Franco, left) and Dale (Seth Rogen, right) confront a mid-level supplier — Danny
McBride, as Red — and bind him with duct tape in an effort to persuade him to
admit whether he ratted them out.

Pineapple Express is almost worse than Zohan.

This leaden, interminable stoner comedy is like a lousy Cheech & Chong flick with violence tossed into the mix. It's aimless, plotless, pointless and atrociously acted, and looks for all the world as if the actors turned up on the set each day as genuinely stoned as the characters being played.

Such work being done, I hasten to add, after the so-called writers — Apatow, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — contributed their effort while flying similarly high.

It's the sole explanation, because only a reefer-hazed arrested adolescent could imagine that this low-rent turkey was even coherent, let alone funny. It appears to have been made on a budget of $1.79, with no money spent on clothing, set design or even credible gunfire effects.

Director David Gordon Green — such a comedown from 2003's All the Real Girls and last year's intriguing (if failed) Snow Angels — apparently selected some chance alleyway, ugly tract house or deserted section of woods, the cast showed up in scruffy street clothes, everybody improvised on the spot, and another five minutes of footage were in the can.

Repeat 22 times, assemble the results completely at random, and you have a movie.

Well ... this movie, anyway.

The story, such as it is:

Rogen stars as wily process server Dale Denton, a scruffy mutt of a guy who mostly enjoys his job because he can listen to talk radio while staying stoned most of the time. He gets his weed from the mopey Saul Silver (James Franco), who impresses our hero on this day with a primo product: a rare new strain of pot dubbed Pineapple Express.

En route to serving his next summons, and while toking on this latest acquisition, Dale is astonished to see his target — Gary Cole, as Ted Jones — murder somebody with the assistance of a corrupt female police officer (Rosie Perez). In a panic, Dale tosses the roach and drives away, returning to Saul's apartment to explain what just went down.

Ah, but Ted turns out to be a truly dangerous drug lord, and the source of Pineapple Express, which he immediately recognizes from the abandoned roach. He sends two goons — Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan, doing a frankly insulting riff on John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, from Pulp Fiction — to pressure the only guy who'd taken delivery of said product (Danny McBride, as Red) into revealing the identify of the only guy he sold it to.

That would be Saul.

Dale, apparently nimble-witted when the script demands as much, deduces this chain of events. From this point onward, he and Saul are on the run from Ted and his gun-toting minions, while the various members of a rival Asian drug cartel gather at the perimeter of events and prepare to kill everybody.

OK, fine; I don't doubt that a reasonably funny dark comedy could have been constructed from these elements, but it would have required a director with Quentin Tarantino's gallows humor and (don't laugh) significantly greater discipline. Green hasn't the faintest idea how to orchestrate this madness, although it's not fair to blame him entirely; the script is a crazy-quilt of disconnected ideas thrown together like spaghetti tossed onto a wall, to see which meatballs stick.

For example: Dale, proving his status as a manchild, has a girlfriend (Amber Heard, as Angie) who happens to be a high school senior. She brings nothing to the story aside from a brief sidebar conflict involving Dale's reluctance to meet her parents, and that eventual dinner scene is a study in jaw-droppingly witless writing.

When last seen, Angie and her folks are holed up — for safety's sake — in some deadbeat hotel room, and then we never see them again. Resolution regarding Dale's relationship with Angie?


(Lest any randy young bucks in the audience show up with the hope that the R rating means the delectable Ms. Heard will doff her duds, you can forget about that, as well. Which, since she can't act a lick, makes her presence completely superfluous.)

At another point, Dale is briefly arrested by an apparently virtuous female cop who mutters darkly about possibly knowing a thing or two about her dirty colleague. Possible salvation? Naah ... after a lunatic exit, Dale and Saul never see this good cop again. Why, then, is she introduced?

For that matter, what's up with the film's Depression-era prologue, which apparently riffs military tests on the effects of marijuana? I kept expecting to hear that Pineapple Express' lineage somehow traced back to that scientifically produced weed, but no, all concerned apparently just thought it would be an amusing — if utterly random — way to begin the movie.

More than anything else, though, this flick spends an astonishing amount of time with the camera trained on Rogen and Franco, as they flap their arms, scream arbitrary words and flail about in blind panic, behaving like headless chickens. Such scenes go on and on and on and on. Patrons — the targeted demographic, I should add — fled the preview screening a few weeks ago, and I couldn't blame them.

Then there's the issue of violence. People get shot here, messily and quite frequently. Many of them die. Some of them don't; indeed, Red gets gut-shot twice, and later sprayed by an automatic weapon, but nonetheless bounces up like the Energizer Bunny. Come to think of it, this story's stoned characters are the ones who get shot but seem miraculously impervious to, oh, blood loss or punctured inner organs.

And we thought marijuana was valued only for its ability to minimize nausea. Has the American Medical Association heard of these new developments?

I could go on, but to what end? Pineapple Express has been made by juvenile idiots who arrogantly believe that their recent box office track record — frankly, not all that impressive — guarantees enough of a financial return to justify this flick.

Prove them wrong, hmm?

No comments:

Post a Comment