REVIEW: “Pineapple Express” (****)

Posted by · 11:02 am · August 6th, 2008

Columbia Pictures\' Pineapple ExpressThe dust will settle on a record-breaking summer movie season and much will be made of super heroes and unexpected, makeup-infested comedic portrayals. But an unassuming stoner comedy that breaks free of the mold and becomes something akin to sheer film-going bliss will be one of the few left standing.

A truly side-splitting yarn that takes its lead from Cheech and Chong and the greatest (or worst) of 1980s action and comedy standards, the film carves its own spot as a new staple. And going into an Oscar season that looks a bit shallow from afar, “Pineapple Express” seems to be the best film 2008 has had to offer so far.

Hell of a thing.

Fresh, authentic, appreciative of its lineage and rife with absolute truths of the stoner way, this one was always guaranteed to leave your gut cramped from unyielding laughter. At the center, however, is a strange thread of realism that is incredibly intriguing. No matter the level of absurdity this sequence or that may reach, on some level, one can’t shake the sense that if these things were going to happen…this is exactly how it would go down.

It’s an odd characteristic that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen out of a film such as this, and all the credit in the world seems to belong to filmmaker David Gordon Green. After making his way in the indie sector on his own terms, his marriage to this material becomes the most natural fit to date.

The plot is simple as pie: Dale Denton (Seth Rogen), a cheeba-loving subpoena server with a high school girlfriend, witnesses a cop and a high level drug dealer (Ted Jones — played by the silky smooth Gary Cole) off an Asian competitor one night. Ditching a roach and high-tailing it to his dealer, Saul Silver’s (James Franco) house, the duo find themselves in a hell of a pickle.

Silver is one of the only dealers in town that has a supply of the newest, rarest bud known to man: Pineapple Express. Jones will surely track them down and gladly bust a cap in their ass if he stumbles onto the roach (which, of course, he does), so it’s shades of “The Defiant Ones” as Dale and Saul get the heck out of dodge.

They eventually make their way to Red (Danny McBride), Saul’s supplier who Jones and his thugs have roughed up in the hopes of locating the two bumbling tokers. Red is a character and half for McBride (also seen in glorious hilarity this year in “The Foot-Fist Way” and “Tropic Thunder”) to sink his teeth into.

(from left) James Franco, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen in Pineapple ExpressAnd when a Royal Rumble of epic proportions breaks out between the three, it quickly becomes one of the greatest fight scenes of all time.

The film continues the cat-and-mouse thing for the duration, filling the gaps with wonderfully creative car chase sequences, plenty of cannabis consumption to carry the point across and Ed Begley Jr.’s finest moments on screen since — well probably ever.

The ensemble is expertly cast, with the expected standout being James Franco. Saul has become the Jeff Spicoli of a new generation, and probably bested him for outright lived-in stoner hilarity. (There were even times when I thought a Sean Penn cameo was in order.) The performance is nothing like what fans of the actor have seen so far and as a former devotee who’s been slowly drifting away, this viewer is right back in there for an actor who’s clearly going places.

Rosie Perez and the aforementioned Ed Begely Jr. make for perma-smile-inducing secondary characters, while “Saturday Night Live”‘s Bill Hader gets to be the guy who settles the audience into their continued state of laughter as the punchline of an opening sequence unrelenting in its…screw it…awesomeness.

“Pineapple Express” is the best piece of work Judd Apatow has ever had his name associated with, but that isn’t saying a whole lot, of course. However, if David Gordon Green is the answer he and the writing duo of Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been looking for, they should sit up and take note.

“Superbad,” for all its charms, wasn’t working on nearly the same levels as. Perhaps filmmaker Greg Mottola couldn’t siphon the right amount of humor that didn’t wallow in the toilet, one can’t be sure. But Green puts on a how-to session any comedic director would be lucky to observe.

(from left) Seth Rogen and James Franco in Pineapple ExpressWhere Rogen and Goldberg’s script runs off the rails in moments that would have inevitably found more than its fair share of guffaws anyway, Green keeps a steady hand, finds levels of truth and reality and boils situations to an impenetrable essence that elevates the comedy ten-fold.

Yes, the man who staked a claim on the mundane mumblings of children and the love-struck in films like “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls” has applied those sensibilities to a niche genre that roots itself in same.

And it works! It works so well it’s a shame Terrence Malick never tried his hand at “Up in Smoke.” The pieces slide into place and find a cohesive fit that couldn’t have been more unexpected.

What’s more, Green’s obvious devotion to the action epics of the 1980s that his generation grew up on makes its way to the surface more than a few times (I swear I’ve seen that knife toss before…can’t place it). He makes no bones about an affinity for Steven Seagal and lord knows he found a proper outlet to show his respect for what I like to call the “Steven E. de Souza subgenre” of actioners. But to mix it in with a pothead extravaganza…absolute genius.

Personally speaking, despite plenty of passable and entertaining experiences in cinemas this year, 2008 has been relatively low-lying on quality endeavors. It hasn’t approached the dog days of 2005 by any stretch, but a definite sense of want has settled in. “Pineapple Express” power-washes all that grime away with a spiffy dedication to outright pleasure.

What a home run.

→ 32 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

32 responses so far

  • 1 8-06-2008 at 12:58 pm

    mike said...

    Wow, great review. I was expecting this film to be great, though not as good as Tropic Thunder, but maybe it will be much better, looking forward to checking it out next week.

  • 2 8-06-2008 at 2:48 pm

    Casey said...

    this is seriously better than The Dark Knight?

  • 3 8-06-2008 at 3:26 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I thought so. The Dark Knight is flawed, despite its ambition.

    I fully expect to be in a minority here. The film is splitting the critical community as it is. But it worked on multiple levels for me.

  • 4 8-06-2008 at 4:47 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    What?! I liked this a lot, but seriously. What?! Have you already forgotten IN BRUGES, THE VISITOR, TELL NO ONE, any number of others. Hell, THE BANK JOB was better.

  • 5 8-06-2008 at 10:33 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I liked The Bank Job better when it was called Sexy Beast.

  • 6 8-07-2008 at 12:50 am

    Brian Kinsley said...

    Most of the critics that diss this are just pissed that their golden boy Green made a mainstream comedy.

    I’m with you on this one Kris. Not my number one, but easily, easily up very close.

  • 7 8-07-2008 at 6:48 am

    Dan said...

    One of the best of the year. Only Pixar’s Wall-E and the steroid doc Bigger Stronger Faster are higher on my year standings. I absolutely adore the end scene with the three men at the diner. Hilarious conversation.

    The supporting cast, while limited, was also extremely good. Especially Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson. They had a Jules and Vincent thing going on there.

  • 8 8-07-2008 at 11:56 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Yeah and I liked PINEAPPLE EXPRESS better when it was called SUPERBAD. These are not precious snowflakes.

  • 9 8-08-2008 at 9:13 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Superbad is entirely different. Not even the same territory. You couldn’t even back up such an assertion. Same writer and producer doesn’t equal same movie.

  • 10 8-08-2008 at 5:18 pm

    AdamL said...

    Did you see the trailer? Did it misrepresent the film as lame and unfunny, or was it a fairly good indication of things – in other words if I didn’t like the trailer is it worth me seeing it?!

  • 11 8-08-2008 at 8:22 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I loved the trailer, personally…so there you go.

  • 12 8-08-2008 at 9:44 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Your idea of similarity is very plot based. You’d be hard-pressed to find in this day and age that doesn’t share plot elements with other films. What makes great films stand out is their energy and what they do with that plot. True, SEXY BEAST and THE BANK JOB both involve tunneling into a safety-deposit vault (They were based on the same crime), but besides that they are wildly divergent. I would argue the antic energy and scattershot dialogue unite SUPERBAD and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and I feel that SUPERBAD did it much better. But they’re not the same film, they share traits, that was my point. Comparing BANK JOB to SEXY BEAST is like comparing NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to CHARLEY VARRICK.

    Bottom line, these are all very good films we’re talking about, I just happen to feel PINEAPPLE EXPRESS was a cut below.

  • 13 8-08-2008 at 10:47 pm

    Chad said...

    I too think that four stars is too lenient. Pineapple gets the fundamentals right, in that it’s funny, features two complete performances and the humor comes from the right place but there are many, many flaws. The Gary Cole and Rosie Perez characters are worthless, the prologue is out of synch with the rest of the film, the production design is shoddy, the climax relies too much on absurd action and any sense of humanity, realism or character pretty much fades away whenever Rogen and Franco aren’t on screen. That’s my take at least.

  • 14 8-08-2008 at 11:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I wouldn’t call the prologue out of sync. It ties in nicely with the “the legends are true” revelation of the finale’s setting.

    Personally, I think the film never misses a beat.

  • 15 8-10-2008 at 10:14 am

    Joel said...

    I haven’t seen the whole thing, but I caught fifteen minutes of it, while waiting to see “Mummy 3” (don’t shoot me!).

    I think it’s the first fifteen minute segment, where I didn’t know what the heck was happening, but it didn’t matter. Possibly the funniest fifteen minutes of any movie I haven’t seen.

    Great review, Kris! Now I REALLY want to see it. Really.

  • 16 8-10-2008 at 4:31 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    I saw it with my family and it’s complete garbage, the epitomy of the dire state of multiplexes today. In a year where we’ve had Aiken’s THE EDGE OF HEAVEN, Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE, Sokurov’s ALEXANDRE, McCarthy’s THE VISITOR and two superb French period dramas, THE LAST MISTRESS and Rivette’s THE DUTCHESS…….., not to mention a few fine independents like IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS……..I can’t fathom why we would need to waste even a sentence on something like this, which is an affrontery to anyone’s intelligence. Boo!

    And I think I read a few days ago where someone said that IN CONTENTION is now promoting this inane drivel as the years’s best film? What next, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES as the best film of the past 20 years?

  • 17 8-10-2008 at 4:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Different strokes, Sam. Cute that you bring your grudge from Awards Daily to this post, however, your first (I believe) at In Contention yet.

    Good luck sticking up for your views and tastes in the world of differing opinions while avoiding the pitfalls of being insulting (willfully so, but that’s obvious). You’re off to a shaky start.

  • 18 8-10-2008 at 4:59 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    Wrong! I has two previous posts here, and both were expressing agreement with you, one with your love for Aronofsky’s THE FOUNTAIN.

    What grudge do I have from Awards Daily? My grudge is against the preposterous notion that a film as deplorable as PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is being touted as a best of any year in film. This is artistic blasphemy, not any kind of a carry over from another site.

  • 19 8-10-2008 at 5:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Your complaint has been taken noted by the management.

  • 20 8-10-2008 at 5:11 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    LOL!!!!! Good one.

    Well that comment is at least funnier than the movie in question.

  • 21 8-10-2008 at 6:33 pm

    kanthi said...

    Pineapple Express is a mess, but a wonderful one. It’s not the ultimate movie about pot that I was expecting, instead it’s a great ordinary-man action movie.I m watched Pineapple Express Here I’ve recommended it to a lot of people on here and I’ve gotten good reviews You could try to

  • 22 8-10-2008 at 7:45 pm

    Joel said...

    Wow, Sam, talk about mainstream bias. Not that I don’t like independent films, but dude, there are actually GOOD mainstream movies.

    Wow…that makes me want to LOL…out loud.

  • 23 8-11-2008 at 8:13 am

    Sam Juliano said...

    True, Joel but PINEAPPLE EXPRESS isn’t one of them! Seems to me like you’ve made up your mind about this film without even seeing it according to your prior posts. I’ll be more than willing to engage you AFTER you see it!

    Good mainstream movies? Try THE DARK KNIGHT, WALL-E and to a lesser extent MAMMA MIA! for starters.

    As far as laughing out loud I am still hysterical that any serious movie lover can contend that the inane and dreadful PINEAPPLE EXPRESS can be called the best film of any given movie year. You are I have a markedly different sense of humor Joel!

  • 24 8-11-2008 at 8:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Keep up the insults, Sam. When you’re ready to talk like an adult, we’re happy to do so, of course…

  • 25 8-11-2008 at 8:41 am

    Sam Juliano said...

    Kris: I think you can chalk up my latest mini-tirade to Joel’s patronizing post. Here’s a guy who jumps in without having seen a film, apparently resentful that I had the “temerity” to rip a film that is frankly disposable. He knows full well from my prolific posting output at LIC (although he stays clear of me–the feeling is mutual) that I have embraced a number of “mainstream movies” over the past two years–hence my “bias” as he calls it is more of an aversion to “trivial teen comedies,” a genre that won’t serious threaten the artistic pantheon of American cinema.

    As for you Kris, I will say this. You are a gentleman, far more patient and non-aggressive than I ever realized. My apologies to you for the admitted insults. I was motivated by the Best Picture thing, otherwise I wouldn’t have posted. You are indeed entitled to your position, especially on this esteemed site.

  • 26 8-11-2008 at 9:14 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Always happy to have you , Sam. Let me know if you ever want to light up and give the “Express” another shot.

  • 27 8-11-2008 at 10:03 am

    Sam Juliano said...

    I will indeed do that on Wednesday night when my Edgewater multiplex offers bargain prices of $4.50. I paid the full amount on Sunday afternoon, which included my wife and five kids, meaning I spent (with refreshments) about $70. So you can see that my anger was in large measure fueled by that expenditure! LOL.
    I have a few friends that want to see it, and I did once this year have a revearsal for the good on another film, Kar-Wei’s MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, as a result of Craig Kennedy’s affinity for the film. I will give PE another shot.

  • 28 8-12-2008 at 10:50 am

    mike said...

    Finally saw it last night. I don’t agree it was the best of the year, but it is def towards the top of my list. It was funny and well-written, a nice throw-back to 80’s buddy action movies. I loved every minute of it!

  • 29 8-30-2008 at 10:27 pm

    movie junkie said...

    first half of Pineapple Express was about half as good as Knocked Up; the second half was almost as bad as Freddy God Fingered

  • 30 8-31-2008 at 10:41 am

    Troy said...

    My favorite movie of the year so far as well.