David Gordon Green’s resume wouldn’t suggest that he has a light touch. His first film, George Washington, told a story about group of children in a depressed small town who band together to cover up a tragic mistake. Next came the slow paced All the Pretty Girls followed by two films that can only be described as domestic tragedies, Undertow and Snow Angels. The four films contained a total of 1.5 laughs spread out over a combined running time of 411 minutes. He’s one Gloomy Gus. So it was with a bit of amazement that I noticed his name on the credits of the new Seth Rogen stoner comedy Pineapple Express.
Rogen, Hollywood’s latest Canadian-born comedy prodigy, plays stoner Dale Denton. Dale’s slacker life becomes complicated after he witnesses a murder perpetrated by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and the city’s most dangerous drug lord (Gary Cole). Freaked out, he drops a roach containing a super rare strain of weed called Pineapple Express—it’s the apex of the vortex they say—at the crime scene. Fearing that the dope is traceable back to him Dale and drug dealer Saul (James Franco) go on the lam with the blood thirsty killers hot on their heels.
Luckily for audiences looking for a midsummer laugh Pineapple Express has less to do with Green’s previous films and a whole lot in common with the kind of politically incorrect R-rated comedies Rogen specializes in like Superbad and Knocked Up. It’s a strange genre flick that falls somewhere between the Cheech and Chong oeuvre and Scarface. It’s funny in a goofy kind of way, but also has a bloody climax that rivals the latter movie’s famous “Say hello to my little friend” scene.
Rogen is a bit more manic here than usual, but brings his everyman appeal to a role that could easily have turned sugarless in the hands of a less likeable actor, but it is James Franco who really surprises. Best known as the bland Harry Osborn / New Goblin in the Spider-Man franchise he shows a completely untapped side here. He’s really funny. As the permanently high drug dealer Saul Silver he delivers many of the film’s best lines and his bleary-eyed charm reveals an engaging comedic presence.
On the comedy scale Pineapple Express doesn’t quite rank up there with some of Rogen’s previous work—I’m thinking the sublime Superbad here—but has enough goofy charisma combined with super charged action to make it an unusual but likable summer distraction.