In its gleefully befogged first hour, "Pineapple Express" seems to be onto something new: It's a marijuana comedy that keeps shuffling genres, like a stoned blackjack dealer. James Franco is blissfully funny as Saul, the supplier who finds himself running for his barely cognizant life with steady customer Dale, played by Seth Rogen. Dale's a 25-year-old dating a high school senior. (He proudly sports a high school girl's wristwatch.) They're running because Dale witnessed a drug-related murder and then dropped a precious joint at the scene of the crime. Unsure whether they're in a comedy or a drama, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez play the ruthless criminals who want the witness dead. The film's title refers to a particularly rare and exquisite brand of weed.
At its sharpest, the script by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote "Superbad," recalls what made "Superbad" worth seeing: the sidewinding conversational riffs, the why-am-I-laughing? wordplay. When Dale explains to his dealer that he's a process server, he replies, "You're a servant? Like, a butler?" As written, that line could go either way, but Franco -- fully invested in this doper's doper -- makes it sing. It's tempting to say Franco knocks such stupid retorts out of the park, but that would imply a certain degree of focus and drive utterly lacking in Saul. Not since the cinematic cannabis heyday of Jeff Spicoli ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High," 1982) and "Withnail & I" (1987) has a fully baked stoner come to such worthy comic life on-screen.
Then, around the midpoint, "Pineapple Express" falls apart and keeps falling, and the comedy, spiced with considerable, unevenly effective violence in that first hour, goes out the window, and in comes all the gore and the bone-crunching. The director is David Gordon Green, who made one of my favorite films this year, "Snow Angels." His work (which includes the poetic "George Washington") has never been easily confined to one category or mood. But there's probably not a director alive who could make sense of this script's queasy blend of jokes and slaughter. Green shoots the fight sequences with rough edges and hand-held realism intact, and the realism is ... well, real. An early smackdown between Rogen and Danny McBride's belligerent idiot Red ends with the trashing of a perfectly good apartment; the scene grinds on well past its usefulness, and the injuries grow more wince-inducing, and before long you're thinking back on "Freebie and the Bean," another comedy that kept morphing into an accidental and deliberately acrid action picture.
For all that, Franco's on-screen rapport with Rogen is a fine thing. Certain lines keep coming back to me, lines that could've come only from truly talented writers. "Hey! I can see through my leg hole!" is one; Franco says it after he kicks through his own windshield during a vehicular chase sequence. Also, there's a throwaway bit with Franco attempting to buzz Rogen into his apartment that approaches perfection -- the quintessence of pot humor, honoring the tradition of the "Dave's not here" routine (Cheech & Chong, for the uninitiated). "Pineapple Express" could care less about perfection; its mood swings and genre change-ups are deliberately messy.
Few comedies recently have started so well and ended so poorly. Whether that first half is enough is entirely up to your receptivity to another pair of jolly Judd Apatow-sanctioned boy-men, taking time to smell the roses even as people are trying to kill them.
MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence).
Running time: 1:52
Starring: Seth Rogen (Dale); James Franco (Saul); Gary Cole (Ted); Rosie Perez (Carol); Danny McBride (Red).
Directed by David Gordon Green; written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg; photographed by Tim Orr; edited by Craig Alpert; music by Graeme Revell; production designed by Chris Spellman; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson.
A Columbia Pictures release.
"Pineapple Express" Movie Production Notes
After taking on the sex comedy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up and redefining the coming-of-age film in Superbad, the filmmaking team at Apatow Productions makes its first action-comedy in Pineapple Express, a Midnight Run for the stoner set about two lazy guys on the lam and their comic attempt to stay one step ahead of a band of vicious killers. Process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) has a grudging business relationship with the laconic Saul Silver (James Franco), deigning to visit only to purchase Saul's primo product - a rare new strain of pot called Pineapple Express. But when Dale becomes the only witness to a murder by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and the city's most dangerous drug lord (Gary Cole), he panics and dumps the Pineapple Express at the scene. When it's traced back to him, Dale and Saul run for their lives... and they quickly discover that they're not just suffering from weed-fueled paranoia. If they survive, these two just might become real friends. All aboard the Pineapple Express.
Columbia Pictures presents in association with Relativity Media an Apatow Company production, Pineapple Express. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, and Danny McBride. Directed by David Gordon Green. Produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson. Screenplay by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Story by Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Executive producers are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Director of photography is Tim Orr. Production designer is Chris Spellman. Edited by Craig Alpert. Co-producer is Dara Weintraub. Costume designer is John Dunn. Music is by Graeme Revell.
Pineapple Express has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. The film will be released in theaters nationwide on August 6, 2008.
About the Cast "Pineapple Express"
SETH ROGEN (Dale), an actor, writer and producer, had a starring role opposite Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, which grossed nearly $150 million at the domestic box office. He co-wrote, executive produced and appeared in the critically acclaimed teen hit Superbad, a semi-autobiographical comedy that earned over $120 million.
Earlier this year, Rogen was the Narrator in the fantasy-adventure The Spiderwick Chronicles. He also voiced roles in the hit animated films Horton Hears a Who! and Kung Fu Panda. Rogen also co-wrote the screenplay for another Apatow-produced comedy, Drillbit Taylor, starring Owen Wilson.
Rogen began his career at the tender age of 13, performing stand-up comedy in Vancouver. After moving to Los Angeles, he landed supporting roles in Judd Apatow's critically acclaimed network television comedies, "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," launching Rogen's reputation for portraying losers, slackers and otherwise average Joes. At 18, proving his chops behind the camera, Rogen was hired as a staff writer on "Undeclared."
In 2005, Apatow cast Rogen in the hit feature comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which opened theatrically at No. 1 and went on to gross $165 million worldwide. Co-produced by Rogen, the film was named one of the Ten Most Outstanding Motion Pictures of the Year by AFI and won Best Comedy Movie at the Critics' Choice Awards. The same year he was nominated for an Emmy Award® for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy on HBO's "Da Ali G Show."
The 26-year-old Canadian continues to verify his place among a new generation of triple-threat comedic writer/producer/actors. He will soon be seen in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, opposite Elizabeth Banks for writer-director Kevin Smith, set for release this Halloween; Observe and Report, opposite Anna Faris for director Jody Hill; and Funny People, Apatow's next film as a writer-director-producer, which Rogen is also executive producing. His voice will be heard in the DreamWorks Animation feature Monsters vs. Aliens. Rogen is also set to star in The Green Hornet, a project he and his writing partner Evan Goldberg are penning and executive producing, set for a June 25, 2010, release by Columbia Pictures.
JAMES FRANCO (Saul) reunites with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen having co-starred in NBC's critically acclaimed "Freaks and Geeks."
Most recently, Franco reprised the role of Harry Osbourne in the blockbuster Spider-Man(tm) 3. He will next star opposite Sean Penn in Milk for director Gus Van Sant, and he appears in Nights in Rodanthe starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere.
Franco earned a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Made for Television for his portrayal of James Dean in the TNT biopic of the same name. He also received nominations for an Emmy® and Screen Actors Guild Award for his memorable performance.
Franco's other credits include Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah, the ensemble drama The Dead Girl, An American Crime with Ellen Page and Catherine Keener, the World War I drama Flyboys, the classic romance Tristan & Isolde, the naval academy drama Annapolis, John Dahl's The Great Raid, Robert Altman's The Company, Nicolas Cage's directorial debut Sonny, as well as City By The Sea opposite Robert De Niro and the Martin Scorsese-produced Deuces Wild.
He has written, directed and starred in several short plays. He adapted two of them, "Fool's Gold" and "The Ape," into feature-length films he produced, wrote, directed and starred in. He also wrote and directed Good Time Max, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
GARY COLE (Ted) is best known for two iconic characters of the film world: the fatherly Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch and the heartless boss Bill Lumbergh in Office Space.
Most recently seen in the feature films Breach and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and the DVD release American Pastime, Cole will next be seen on the big screen in Forever Strong.
In television, Cole recently completed a turn on the ABC hit "Desperate Housewives." Other recent television credits include starring in TNT's "Wanted" and guest roles on "Shark" and "Supernatural." Previously, Cole played Vice President Bob "Bingo" Russell on the Emmy®-winning drama series "The West Wing."
Other film credits include Mozart and the Whale, The Ring Two, Cry Wolf, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, One Hour Photo, I Spy, A Simple Plan, The Gift, and In the Line of Fire.
Early television appearances include the NBC miniseries "Fatal Vision," in which he played the starring role of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald; the role of Jack Killian in "Midnight Caller"; and the ABC miniseries "Son of the Morning Star," in which he played General George Armstrong Custer.
ROSIE PEREZ (Carol) most recently starred on the big screen in Brad Furman's The Take opposite John Leguizamo, Tyrese Gibson and Bobby Cannavale.
Perez also recently received rave reviews for her performance as Googie Gomez in "The Ritz" on Broadway opposite Kevin Chamberlain.
Perez received critical acclaim for her directorial debut, Yo Soy Boricua Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas!, a documentary which celebrates Puerto Rican pride. Narrated by Jimmy Smits, the film uncovers the complex and controversial history between Puerto Rico and the United States. Yo Soy Boricua Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas! was the highest-attended film at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film was produced by Moxie Firecracker Films in association with Perez's own Ten In a Car Productions. Perez also served as executive producer on the project.
Perez also starred in George Wolfe's critically acclaimed film Lackawanna Blues, for which her performance garnered her a 2006 NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Actress in a TV Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. The film won Best Film or Mini-Series Made for Cable TV from the National Board of Review and was nominated for Eddie, DGA, WGA, Humanitas, NAACP Image, and Independent Spirit Awards. Lackawanna Blues debuted on HBO.
On the big screen, Perez's performance in Peter Weir's Fearless garnered her Golden Globe and Academy Award® nominations. Perez's other film credits include Human Nature, Riding in Cars with Boys, Do the Right Thing, Night on Earth, White Men Can't Jump, Untamed Heart, and It Could Happen to You.
As a producer, Perez's credits include Nancy Savoca's 24 Hour Woman for The Shooting Gallery and HBO's "Rosie Perez Presents Society's Ride," which ran as three parts, and "Subway Stories," an anthology of short films that she created.
Perez began her career as a choreographer for such artists as Bobby Brown, LL Cool J and Diana Ross. She also choreographed and directed the "Fly Girls" on Fox Television's "In Living Color," for which she received NAACP Image Award and Emmy® nominations.
Perez made her Broadway debut in the hit revival of Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" opposite Joe Pantoliano. She went on to star in Craig Lucas' "Reckless" opposite Mary-Louise Parker at The Biltmore Theater in Fall 2004. Previously, Rosie performed on stage in Eve Ensler's critically acclaimed "The Vagina Monologues" in the New York, Los Angeles and Boston productions and Jose Rivera's highly acclaimed "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot" at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre for which she won a Theatre World Award. Perez also performed in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and a staged reading of "Borrowed Light" at Alice Tully Hall, which was a series of monologues on the evolution of life behind bars written by female inmates.
DANNY McBRIDE (Red) previously starred in David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls and The Foot Fist Way, which he co-wrote with director Jody Hill. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was recently released under Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Paramount Vantage-based banner Gary Sanchez Productions.
McBride also recently appeared in Paramount's Hot Rod, produced by Lorne Michaels; Drillbit Taylor, which was produced by Judd Apatow, Susan Arnold and Donna Roth; and The Heartbreak Kid, starring Ben Stiller. He will next appear in Tropic Thunder and recently completed work on Last of the Lost opposite Will Ferrell. McBride is also writing and starring in the upcoming HBO series "East Bound and Down."
Born in Georgia, McBride was raised in Virginia and received a BFA in filmmaking at the North Carolina School of the Arts.
AMBER HEARD (Angie) was most recently seen starring in Never Back Down opposite Sean Faris. She also stars in the horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, slated for release in August 2008. She will also star in The Informers opposite Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton, set for release in October, and next year, she will star in Screen Gems' The Stepfather.
Heard appeared alongside Bruce Willis and Justin Timberlake in Alpha Dog, directed by Nick Cassavetes and also played Charlize Theron's character in the flashback sequences of North Country.
Additional credits include sideFX and Friday Night Lights. Television appearances include "The O.C.," "The Mountain," "Jack & Bobby," and Kevin Williamson's drama "Hidden Palms."