' ' Cinema Romantico: Pineapple Express

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pineapple Express

The latest cinematic thoroughbred to come charging out of the stable of Judd Apatow (this time he's producer with a story by credit) might be best termed Apatow's first foray into action movie territory. Yes, it's about two stoner buddies and that automatically means gobs of comedy we expect from such a movie but the one phrase that kept popping into my head over and over as I watched it was this: "Pineapple Express" is "The Wild Bunch" for the stoner crowd.

Dale (Seth Rogen, co-writer of the script with Evan Goldberg) is a process server with a teenage girlfriend. He drops by her high school for a visit where she gets him to a agree to dinner with her parents the following evening and then he's off to the apartment of his perpetually high drug dealer Saul (James Franco) to score some weed, though in this case it's not any weed but the wonderous, extremely rare Pineapple Express. The two dudes bond, sort of, with Franco especially conveying the desperate need for companionship beneath that hazy exterior.

But Dale has someone else to serve and that someone just happens to be Ted Jones (Gary Cole, tragically not given much to do) who just happens to be the kingpin who deals the drugs to Saul's middleman and it just so happens that when Dale shows up at the house he witnesses Ted and and a female cop (Rosie Perez, given even less to do than Cole) murder someone. Frantic, Dale ditches the joint he was smoking and flees back to Saul's apartment. One problem: Ted finds the joint, smokes it, recognizes it as Pineapple Express, and therefore tracks it to Saul since it just so happens Saul is the only one in the city who has it.

The set-up is somewhat contrived but that's to be expected. What follows after is sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny (although I wonder if partaking in the ganja might be required for certain scenes because some audience members were laughing really hard at things I didn't find funny at all) and very, very scattershot. The screenplay is not so much a screenplay as it is a slender strand from which our characters dangle by their fingertips for the film's duration. (The movie's last scene, in fact, felt entirely improvised.) This means various plot points will be brought up and never from heard from again, like Dale's girlfriend who is mysteriously left hanging. I know, I know, I can already hear people arguing, "But that's what it's like in a stoner's mind, man." Okay, but I'm not a stoner. I'm a screenwriter (or so I say) and in a screenwriter's mind this crap don't cut it. Last year's superior (and underseen) "Smiley Face" actually had various story pieces threaded through its script while still maintaining the propensity of stoner movie inanities.

Thankfully Franco offers a wonderous turn as Saul and Danny McBride as Saul's middleman Red is great, too. (Seth Rogen, of course, is just Seth Rogen.) But the movie has one major trick up its sleeve.

When "The Wild Bunch" debuted in 1969 movie violence was not in any way what it is now. If someone was shot in a movie, there was no blood. Violence was kept to a minimum. But "The Wild Bunch" blew the door off the hinges. When a guy got shot, he got shot. When blood splattered, it splattered. You saw more than you'd ever seen. It revolutionzied action movies. Every gratuitous cinematic killing and every single god-forsaken slow-motion bullet you've seen since exists because of "The Wild Bunch". And in the years after we've seen our action heroes progress more and more to where they're larger than life and indestructible. No one gets hurt in these movies. The hero gets, maybe, a little cut on his upper lip, a little blood on the forehead. The bad guys die swiftly so as not to detract screen time from the hero. And worst of all, anyone in a movie that doesn't appear to have ever been in a fight can somehow pick up a gun and start blasting bullets as if he's done it all his life.

The first real action scene, per se, in "Pineapple Express" occurs when Dale and Saul confront Red who has agreed to sell the duo out to Ted's two henchmen. The trio engages in a prolonged struggle throughout the house and not skillfully. As you watch it you realize these are three guys that have no idea what they're doing. They are fighting for survival without the action movie manual to guide them. People get hit, but no one gets knocked out. People get injured, and they whine about it. There is a distinct lack of slow motion choreography. It's artless - the artlessness of real life. And the fact it's done without music just adds to that artlessness. Say what you will, but I thought this was the finest action sequence of the whole summer and a lot of that stems from the fact it's the precise opposite of what we have been conditioned to expect. Is that what director David Gordon Green (who also helmed this year's "Snow Angels") intended? I have no idea. But that's what I took from it.

Later a bad guy takes a bullet but doesn't take it like a man. He moans. He admits he's never been shot. Even when we see Ted masquerading about with a gun in each hand he doesn't resemble Antonio Banderas, he resembles a guy who wants to look like Antonio Banderas. Green seems a little bit unsure at times with the most elaborate setpieces but I still didn't mind so much because that lent more rawness, more unstoryboardness. It gets gory, sure, and if you don't like gore this probably isn't the movie for you but if you got shot in the ear, well, what? Did you think you'd just go about your day like nothing happened?

Besides, any movie that works in a few snippets of Public Enemy's "Lost at Birth" can't be all bad.


Wretched Genius said...

Smiley Face was not superior. Watch it again. The plot thread you speak of is nonexistent, just a general goal to provide an excuse for Anna Faris to bumble her way into all kind of wacky shenanigans. It was kinda funny, but I laughed a lot less than I did with Pineapple Express.

Nick Prigge said...

I believe you're right in regards to the "Smiley Face" plot thread. I just re-read my review and realized I sort of addressed that fact. The Anna Faris performance, I think, was inflating my memory of the plot.

I liked Anna Faris so much, though, it still elevates it over "Pineapple Express" for me.