**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Danny McBride
screenplay by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw I'm willing to concede that I don't completely get it, but I'm still game to think about it because Pineapple Express has a peculiar pedigree. It boasts David Gordon Green as its director and his regular DP Tim Orr is in charge of shooting the gross-out gags and stone-faced stoner riffs. The union makes the most sense if we read the film as a throwback/homage to the seventies cycle of grindhouse exploitation flicks (doobies and dismemberment), thus explaining the old-school wipes and funkadelic soundtrack, the mote-flecked cinematography, the cruel violence, and, if it's even possible, the air of reality throughout. Otherwise, the picture feels like a cynical patchwork stitching together this new comedy genre with a sensibility specifically designed to mock it. When über-stoner Saul (James Franco, in his Spicoli/The Dude breakout) runs through the dark woods, the flash I get isn't to Cheech & Chong but to the convulsive opening of Green's Undertow. And during an ending in an abandoned government research facility-turned-subterranean pot greenhouse, I couldn't shake Green's odd relationship with Asian stereotyping (remember the Feng Shui character from All the Real Girls?) in a troupe of black-clad Asian assassins clearly established as objects of derision. In truth, however, I don't know if the derision is levied at Asians or at the criticism levied against Green's perceived derision of the same.
Putting pomo justifications for Green/Orr taking a dip in the Apatow trickle aside, Pineapple Express finds lumpen process server Dale (Seth Rogan) and his drug dealer Saul on the run from bad cop Carol (Rosie Perez) and evil kingpin Ted (Gary Cole) after Dale accidentally witnesses a gangland assassination. Dale likes talk radio, weed, his 18-year-old girlfriend (Amber Heard), and dressing up in costumes--all of which sets the stage for either Fletch or The Man With One Red Shoe, though neither possibility (for a self-described master of disguise fighting crime or a Chauncey Gardener doing the same accidentally) is explored much. What happens instead is a lot of Super Troopers-grade stoner gags tied together by a performance from Franco that has the misfortune of being familiar and human in the middle of a lot of low-aspiring blarney. Yet the idea persists that the picture isn't actually low-aspiring--that there's this tipping point in the midst of all the tired gross-out/dumb-guy crap where everything falls over into queasy, self-reflexive fascination. The extreme violence recalls the Southern Gothic of Undertow; the awkward disintegration of a romantic relationship from dysfunction to disaster (in the flick's best moment) All the Real Girls; and the almost complete lack of a conventional sense of humour Green's entire oeuvre.
Whatever intrigue Pineapple Express possesses has a lot to do with that friction between the Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg screenplay and the Green/Orr interpretation: the one slotted comfortably into now-familiar motions, the other incapable of not making a seventies picture thick with sadness. It's a difficult match to reconcile unless pot's paranoia-giving properties suggest a clearer link to the paranoia pieces of the '70s. I'm a real admirer of Green--I'm thrilled he's been tabbed to direct the Suspiria remake: Green should only be involved in films with roots in the seventies; and though he's never shown much propensity for comedy, he's making a case for himself with his surrealism, fairytale fantasy, and gore. Pineapple Express is sadistic and puerile and completely functional as the exact photonegative of what it's intended to be. It attacks Apatow comedies as the shallow constructs they are while attacking simultaneously the buddy picture and the stoner goof. Whether that's a result of intentionality or, more likely, the product of Green's inability to do any other kind of film than the David Gordon Green indie is immaterial. What remains is this odd, orphaned thing designed to squeeze cash from its hapless quarry--the title, after all, refers to a rare marijuana hybrid you buy for a few bucks and then, poof!: gone with just a dry mouth, a sense of mild anxiety, and a loss of time to show for it. Originally published: August 6, 2008.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Another day, another overstuffed Blu-ray courtesy the Apatow camp. Presented in a lustrous, fine-grain 2.40:1, 1080p transfer, Pineapple Express looks fetching on the format in both its theatrical and 5-minute-longer unrated incarnations (although Pineapple Express was likewise shot in Super35, the image doesn't have that same flat, borderline solarized appearance that Step Brothers does in HiDef), and the feature's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is equally dynamic. But the special features exhausted my patience, and long before they were over. (Granted, a package like this was never intended to be consumed all at once--that's my occupational cross to bear.) I started to chafe during the 32 minutes of "raw footage," the objective of which is...what, exactly? To marvel at the mad improv skillz of the cast? To engender sympathy for director David Gordon Green for having to sculpt Devil's Tower from mashed potatoes? Whatever the case, putting Béla Tarr-ready takes of James Franco reacting to "227" on this disc redefines self-indulgence. (It's probably infinitely more tolerable if you're high, which is probably the point.) Capping as they do a pretty thorough excavation of the trim bin--you also get three deleted scenes (the best an expunged cameo from Drillbit Taylor's Troy Gentile), a handful of alternate scenes, the by-now familiar "Line-o-Rama" (3 mins.), "Direct-o-Rama" (4 mins. and similar to Line-o-Rama, with the addition of offscreen cues from Green), a "Gag Reel" (5 mins.) that begins with Franco tickling Seth Rogen's nutsack and gradually morphs into a wrap-party goodtimes highlight reel, and a pair of outtakes from Rogen's "Phone Booth" rant (6 mins.) with a funny Judd Apatow filling for an as-yet-uncast Amber Heard--these dailies are an endurance test akin to carousel #2 of your neighbour's vacation slides. Maybe in 30 years, when we've got some distance from Apatow's overexposed process, or when Green has taken his place among the masters of his craft, they'll seem more revelatory and will have lost the taint of overkill, though even if we accept them as a gift to posterity the filmmakers still come off as narcissists for including them here.
There's more, of course. Companion pieces of a sort, "The Making of Pineapple Express" (21 mins., 1080i) is an OK consolidation of points touched on elsewhere in these extras (points off, though, for saying that Danny McBride was cast on the basis of The Foot Fist Way whilst failing to mention that he made his acting debut in Green's All the Real Girls) while "The Action of Pineapple Express" (12 mins., 1080i) offers an earnest look at Gary Hymes' stunt choreography--who knew this movie contained the most wirework this side of House of Flying Daggers? Franco actually says the action sequences were harder to shoot than those of the Spider-Man series because Pineapple Express had a considerably shorter shooting schedule and, moreover, denied itself the luxury of greenscreens. The platter's more onanistic tendencies resume with: "Item 9" (4 mins.), a faux-newsreel modelled on archival footage glimpsed in Ron Mann's Grass in which oily-haired Mac shill Justin Long and the film's own Ken Jeong and Joe Lo Truglio play guinea pigs testing marijuana for the U.S. military; "Saul's Apartment" (14 mins.), a quasi-sitcom wherein Long (as himself) and various characters from the film (Jeong's Chinese assassin, Mr. Edwards, Bubby) materialize in the titular locale seeking weed and companionship--and, in Long's case, a golden shower--from Saul and/or Red (McBride); "Red and Jessica's Guide to Marriage" (4 mins., 1080i), an opportunity for the camera operator to zoom in on an overendowed pinup and for McBride to show a stunning lack of originality in revealing Red's last name ("Green"--and hey, there's a duct-tape joke in the film!); and "Stuntmaster Ken" (3 mins., 1080i), a tongue-in-cheek exposé of Jeong, who describes himself as "Christian Bale with talent."
"Begley's Best" (6 mins., 1080i) is an honourable piece of cross-promotion for Ed Begley Jr.'s line of non-toxic cleaning products--which he stocks on store shelves himself!--rendered less so by a vaguely condescending backdrop of cartoony music. "Injury Report" (5 mins., 1080i) is exactly that; poor, dumb Franco really did run into that tree, causing him to need three stitches. "Rehearsal 3/6/07 - Police Liaison" (6 mins., 1080i) and "Table Read(s) 3/4/06" (also HD) for the "Dale and Saul Break Up" and "Underwater GPS" are strictly for completists, and the "Comic-Con Panel" (7 mins.), on which Apatow moderates a conversation between Green, Franco, Heard, McBride, and co-writer Evan Goldberg, is boomy-sounding and particularly stale. The "red band" trailer for Pineapple Express joins HiDef previews for The Wackness, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Step Brothers, and Superbad in rounding out the Blu-ray Disc, the latter two additionally cuing up on startup. Oh yeah, there's a commentary, too, appending each version of the film in a slightly different form. At the mike from the get-go are Apatow, Begley, Rogen, McBride, Goldberg, and Green; they're variously joined by actors Rosie Perez, Craig Robinson, and Kevin Corrigan as well as producer Shauna Robertson. Green rarely speaks unless prompted and is often referred to in the third person, as in an eye-opening discussion of his sometimes-inexplicable script notes (he proposed that extras be forced to shave their eyebrows)--and there's an early tangent about Jeff Goldblum that grows funnier the more they milk it. Group yakkers tend to be white noise but, credit where credit is due, Apatow's once again prove the exception to the rule. Concealed by a keepcase insert is a Digital Copy of the film on DVD. Originally published: January 5, 2009.