I caught the super early Pineapple Express screening this weekend at the Alamo South Lamar. Director David Gordon Green and stars Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Danny McBride were in attendance. It was a typically fun evening at the Alamo, and I was pleasantly surprised with the film itself. In a lot of ways, Pineapple Express is a 1980s flick. In some cases, this association is loose (the film’s theme song is a new tune by Huey Lewis & The News) and in many ways, it’s downright literal (one of my favorite throwaway lines was “no retreat, no surrender”). While the film is the latest from the Judd Apatow machine, it’s very unique. It’s a pot comedy, sure, but at its heart the film feels more like an undiscovered episode of Miami Vice as made by “the guys who brought you Superbad.”
Seth Rogen and James Franco star as pothead and dealer, respectively. After Rogen’s character witnesses a murder by the hands of a mobster (Gary Cole), he and Franco are forced on the run when a rare strand of weed called “Pineapple Express” links them to the scene of the crime. From there, the film is simply a chase picture, peppered with oddball hitmen, an underage girlfriend, and a conniving-but-caring fellow dealer named Red (Danny McBride). Making a sharp detour from his last four arthouse dramas, David Gordon Green eases into this high-concept terrain and even manages some crisp action sequences. Which brings me to the big hook of Pineapple Express: this is the first Apatow action comedy. While previous releases like Knocked Up or Forgetting Sarah Marshall have relied on dialogue-heavy situational humor, this story must switch gears in almost every scene.
As an audition for more big-budget genre work, I think Green did a terrific job with Pineapple Express. Whether or not this is gonna be a major success like Superbad, I’m not so sure. If you wanna compare this to Superbad, much like Forgetting Sarah Marshall is compared directly to Knocked Up, some of the same parallels apply. Pineapple Express is a more complicated vehicle, and fleshes out directions that Superbad only lightly touched on. Is that what the Apatow fans and uninitiated crave? I guess we’ll see, when this opens in August. As it stands, Pineapple Express is worth catching for yourself. The improv-heavy dialogue is snappy, James Franco is a revelation, Danny McBride is awesome as usual, and the action set pieces don’t wear out their welcome. A few of the fight/chase sequences go on for a few minutes too long, but when they work well (like an extended apartment fight between the three leads), they’re relentlessly fun.
One last thought on the box office potential of Pineapple Express: it will be really interesting to see if the film is hurt by the fact that another anticipated R-rated action comedy, Tropic Thunder, is opening one week later (August 15). Arguably, this same kind of timing is what has split the audiences right now between similar R-rated comedies Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.