(2008)3.5Jason BuchananLeave it to director David Gordon Green to help redefine the Judd Apatow comedy. In the wake of such Apatow-produced laugh-fests as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Drillbit Taylor, it seemed as if Team Apatow may have been getting a bit too comfortable with its success, and a bit more willing to fall back on the reliable formula that made it successful in the first place -- you know, the old "lovable goofball gets into awkward situation, but ultimately proves he has a heart of gold once he's seen through the haze of pot smoke and/or redeemed himself to the requisite dream girl/soul mate" schtick.
And who could blame them, anyway? After the pain of seeing Freaks and Geeks (no doubt one of the most honest and hilariously endearing shows about teenagers ever to air on network television), get unceremoniously canceled before it had a chance to succeed, only to bounce back with Undeclared and see the same thing happen all over again, the Apatow crew has arguably earned the right to coast on their laurels for a few flicks. Their approach to comedy was simply a few years ahead of its time -- and perhaps better suited to the big screen anyway -- but it was still only a matter of time before familiarity dictated that things be shaken up a bit in order to keep them fresh -- and with Pineapple Express, that's exactly what has happened.
With Knocked Up and Superbad, it began to feel as if Apatow golden boy Seth Rogen was finally coming into his own; the former proving that he could successfully carry a box-office hit and the latter proving he could pen one as well. As they did previously for Superbad, longtime writing partners Rogen and Evan Goldberg once again collaborate to pen the script for Pineapple Express, while Apatow seems content just to take a story and producer credit. The resulting film feels like an expansion of the familiar Apatow universe as filtered through a director whose independent sensibilities and unique approach to action give the film an original yet playfully retro tone that's truly satisfying on a number of levels: it works great as a stoner comedy, delivers the gritty goods as action film, and offers a truly satisfying character arc as a buddy film as well. But the movie isn't satisfied to simply succeed at aping the conventions of these tried-and-true formulas either, because it takes liberties with each that prove that, even when typing away in a cloud of pot smoke, writers Rogen and Goldberg are smart enough to know when to inject some new ideas into the mix. And those ideas are perfectly complemented by the assured direction of Green, an indie prodigy who, despite having never distinguished himself as an "action" director, handles car chases and gun fights with complete confidence and a keen eye for comedic detail.
Still, you can talk about the screenplay and direction all day, but in the end it's the chemistry between stars Rogen and James Franco that makes Pineapple Express such an enjoyable ride. Their interactions are always relaxed and believable (no doubt due in part to their days smoking cigarettes outside the cafeteria in Freaks and Geeks), with Rogen's high-strung process server proving the perfect onscreen counterbalance to Franco's spaced-out pot dealer. Not only that, but it's easy to sense when their stories begin to diverge late in the second act, and after the subsequent fallout it's a pleasure to see how they come back together in an attempt to work their way out of a truly dire situation. Singling out any particular member of the supporting cast for praise, however, is somewhat difficult, as everyone from Ed Begley Jr. to Rosie Perez has their fair share of memorable moments, even if (as in the case of Gary Cole's psychotically unhinged performance) we may wish they had been given a bit more screen time. No doubt comedy lovers will be seeing much more of Danny McBride in years to come thanks to his hilarious turn as a dope-slinging middleman who knows how to bounce back after a beating (and a shooting), and as the bickering hitmen assigned the task of dispensing with the stoned runners, perpetual supporting player Kevin Corrigan and soft-spoken giant Craig Robinson steal nearly every scene they're in. Toss in some hilariously gruesome sight gags, surreal mixed metaphors, and a fun soundtrack, and you've got the ideal recipe for a buddy action comedy that's perfectly paced, and baked to perfection.