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Pineapple Express

Man of Steel comes out next week, but I’m sure you already knew that. In fact, WB has done such a superb job in hyping this picture up that they’ve effectively scared away the competition. This is how, the weekend before, the only two wide releases are a couple of shitpiles just begging to be swept under the rug. I could respond to this in my usual fashion (go out to the local arthouses and see what’s playing there), but I’d rather take the weekend to study for a final exam. Priorities.

Nevertheless, I still feel compelled to write something up for this weekend. So in lieu of seeing a new release this week, I’ll be prepping for a new release next week. I refer in this case to This Is the End, a movie made by Seth Rogen and his celebrity buddies, all of whom play heightened versions of themselves. As such, it should come as no surprise that their previous works are heavily referenced through the picture. In fact, according to early reports, the film Pineapple Express should get its own credit above the title for how many times it’s brought up.

…Oh, look what’s been waiting in my “to-watch” pile for the past year.

Pineapple Express tells the story of Dale Denton, played by Seth Rogen. The guy makes his living by tricking people into taking subpoenas, and he gets to smoke pot in his car between jobs. He’s also got a somewhat fragile relationship with a high school senior named Angie (Amber Heard). Basically, Dale is right on that line where he’s just productive enough to not be a slacker, though his life is built on a house of cards nonetheless. So naturally, something comes along to ruin everything.

First, Dale goes to his dealer. Saul Silver (James Franco) has gotten an exclusive deal to sell a brand new and incredibly potent strain of marijuana called “Pineapple Express.” He’s the only one in the city selling the super-rare weed, and the very first person to buy it is Dale.

So Dale is smoking a blunt while waiting to serve a subpoena — like he does — only to witness a murder. Even better, the murder is done by a corrupt cop (Carol, played by Rosie Perez) and the drug kingpin who brought Pineapple Express into the city (Ted Jones, played by Gary Cole). And of course, Jones is familiar with the special kind of pot that Dale left behind while fleeing the scene, and he knows there’s only one dealer in the whole city who sells Pineapple Express. So now Dale and Saul are fleeing for their lives as they get caught in the middle of a massive drug war.

Right off the bat, I can tell you this much: Your enjoyment of this film will depend heavily on your hatred or love for Seth Rogen’s brand of humor. Specifically, it will depend on your tolerance for the schlubby, motormouthed, kind-hearted fool that Rogen plays in most of his comedies.

To be clear, I’ve got nothing against Rogen personally, or even against him as an actor. He was one of the only worthwhile things in Take this Waltz, and his performance in Paul was surprisingly good. However, both of his characters in those movies were notable because they were departures from his usual wheelhouse. When Rogen has settled into his same old groove, I can’t stand him.

See, my sensibilities were formed by comedians like Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, George Carlin, Chris Rock, David Wong, and other such comics who could use jokes and one-liners to make concise and gut-busting points about a given subject. I love watching humorists who know exactly where the funny is, and then pummel it into submission with short and devastating bursts. Sort of like a heat-seeking missile.

By comparison, Rogen and company tell jokes that are more like plagues. They sprawl around in all directions, lasting for way longer than necessary until they finally taper out and die. In this “rambling” style of comedy, the funny moments don’t really feel intentional. They feel more like mistakes that happen between so much filler. That’s especially problematic in a movie, since it throws about a dozen monkey wrenches into the pacing.

This movie in particular is a prime example. There are so many times when I tuned out of this film because the characters kept rambling on and on about unimportant crap. Nothing funny was being said and nothing important to the plot was happening. It was just so many characters going back and forth, repeating themselves constantly, taking turns beating a long-dead camel. Honestly, there are times when it felt like the dialogue wasn’t even scripted and I was just watching bad improv. It’s not even like all the talking was done to set up a joke, the talking was in itself supposed to be the joke.

(Full disclosure: This review is based on the unrated extended cut. It’s only an additional five minutes of footage, but I’m sure those extra five minutes went entirely toward the humor.)

The ending is probably the worst case in point. After the climax, our main characters spend something like three minutes rehashing the movie we just saw, riding off into the sunset and leaving a hundred unresolved story threads in their wake. FAIL.

To be clear, the cast is full of some very funny people and I can sort of understand how some might see the humor in the situations and dialogue. In my opinion, however, a comedy should spend its entire running time either telling jokes or telling a story. If it isn’t doing either, then it’s wasting everyone’s time.

Of course, part of the problem with this movie is in the characters themselves. Between the stoners, the drug dealers, the hitmen, and the corrupt police officers, there isn’t a single character in this movie worth emotionally investing in. Seriously, when the most rational member of the cast is a barely legal slut, a movie’s got problems.

There’s no reason to care about the dialogue if we don’t care about the characters, and that’s a dealbreaker for a movie that’s something like 90 percent dialogue. Even worse, we’re expected to invest emotionally in the friendships and relationships between so many unrepentantly broken characters. The movie asks us to care about two irresponsible slackers (who, it must be said, commit multiple felonies throughout the picture purely because of their own stupidity) settling their differences and becoming BFFs again. Fuck. That.

On the other hand, there are certain benefits to having a cast full of unlikeable characters, especially in a comedy. Specifically, we can watch them go after each other and get a few laughs no matter who wins. And this is where the movie really got enjoyable for me. There are some action sequences in this movie that are genuinely funny because the characters all act like idiots throughout. Even if the action scenes look a touch amateurish by Hollywood standards, it was still funny to see so many assholes destroying property, destroying each other, and destroying themselves out of sheer idiocy. The car chase and the fight at Red’s house were two particular (no pun intended) high points.

Also, even if the characters are extremely weak, the actors are all very good. I hated the two hitmen and their uneven characterization, but Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson are both trying so hard that they redeem themselves through sheer effort. Likewise, even if James Franco is playing a useless human being, he’s still James Franco. Guy’s got a tremendous amount of screen presence, and there’s still a neat kind of novelty in watching him play such a sleazy character (especially five years before Spring Breakers).

Props are also due to Gary Cole and Rosie Perez, both of whom play convincing badasses with just the right amount of comical desperation. There’s also Amber Heard, who… I’m sorry, I just can’t say anything bad about her. It helps that her character is barely in this movie and her subplot is only a few ticks away from being thoroughly worthless. She doesn’t drag the movie down, though for all I know, maybe that’s because she didn’t have a chance to. In any case, I just can’t hate on her.

Which brings me to Danny McBride and Seth Rogen. McBride plays such a spineless turd that I honestly wanted to see him die, though I at least know from other movies that he’s better than this. With Rogen, however, I just don’t know. I only know that if Superbad, 50/50, Paul, and yes, Take This Waltz are any indication, Rogen should never have been promoted to “leading man” status. Rogen seems to be at his best when he’s helping other actors carry a movie. When he’s called upon to carry a movie himself, however, the whole production sinks with him.

Finally, I suppose I should say something about the film’s marijuana aspect. Obviously, a great deal of the film’s humor involves getting high, getting munchies, etc. Even so, the movie does take time to comment on the pros and cons of pot use. In fact, the film opens with a neat little satirical sketch, depicting a “possible” reason for how and why marijuana came to be illegal.

(Side note: The sketch is centered around Bill Hader, who showed up in a cameo role. His performance is pretty much the only reason why the sketch works at all.)

Then again, Dale also takes some time out of the movie to think about all the ways that pot use led them up to this incredibly dangerous and totally insane point in their lives. It would be an interesting statement, if the film did absolutely anything with it. Instead, since the film makes no effort to disprove or otherwise follow up on the idea, it just makes the filmmakers look like they had no idea what they were trying to say.

I wasn’t particularly fond of Pineapple Express, but I can understand the appeal. This is a very talented group of actors, and the fun they’re having on set is quite infectious. I also have to admit that the film had me laughing a few times, especially during the action scenes. Unfortunately, the film has a rambling and frequently juvenile sense of humor that simply isn’t my cup of tea. Moreover, I couldn’t bring myself to invest a single iota of emotion into the characters’ relationships, probably because I have so little patience for Rogen’s tired old schtick.

If you’re a fan of the Judd Apatow camp and everything that he and Seth Rogen have brought unto this world, then you should already have seen this picture multiple times. If you’re a relative newcomer, give this one a watch to see if it’s your cup of tea. Otherwise, don’t bother.

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