Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Man on Film: Pineapple Express

After completion of viewing number one of the newest installment in the Team Apatow catalog, it is hard not to feel like we, the viewing public, are being spoiled by the "Freaks and Geeks"/"Undeclared" alumni films that they've been churning out twice a year. The films that Apatow has produced are not always great (i.e. Walk Hard), but the vehicles for his former TV guys have been consistently great.

Honestly, though, the thing that is most abundantly clear upon watching the film is that James Franco has been wasted in roles that were ill-suited for him pretty much since "Freaks and Geeks" went off the air. For the past few years, he has toiled away in serious roles (either as a lead in what amounted to be a crappy film or a supporting character in films of varying degrees of success while having his talents under-utilized), acting opposite of formerly great actors and never-will-be's in schlock that has been largely beneath him. Luckily, Pineapple Express is no Flyboys, and the great James Franco has stood up to reclaim his reputation in the role of Saul Silver, Dale Denton's drug dealer.

It certainly doesn't hurt that he finally has a great cast, director, and script to work with. Many of the usual Apatow troop are present. There is the obligatory creepy cameo by Joe Lo Truglio. Kevin Corrigan is back to play the odd tough guy. Ken Jeong, Craig Robinson, and Bill Hader have supporting roles and cameos. Apatow mainstay Seth Rogen is obviously also present. Newcomer to the group, Gary Cole is really fun. Danny McBride is funny as shit. The beautiful Amber Heard is hilarious as Dale's girlfriend. Hell, Rosie Perez manages to not be distractingly aggravating, which I was not sure was possible.

Of the Apatow productions, one could certainly argue that Pineapple Express has the most technically proficient director, too. Terrence Malick-approved David Gordon Green gets to take the reigns here, and the result is the best looking film Apatow Productions has released. It is certainly the most demanding. There are chase scenes and explosions and stunts galore. With Green manning the megaphone and guiding the film, there is nothing that is not executed exceptionally. The multiple fight scenes are pulled off without any hitches and successfully balance the look and feel of an action film with the intrinsic comedy of the Rogen/Goldberg screenplay. The car chase in the police cruisers manages to be both insanely funny and dramatically intense at the same time. This is simply a good looking film.

What makes the film, though, is the Franco/Rogen connection. Their energy brings the film to life. Sure, they're mostly bumbling retards who should probably have died about four different times in the film, but their stumbling through their absurd predicament is what makes the film so great. Essentially, the audience is treated to a stoner modernization of the wrong man story Hitchcock was so enamored with in films like The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, and North by Northwest--the greatness inherent in that being that you've got two people who are absolutely ill-equipped to pull themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves mired. Pineapple Express is not some dumbed down stoner flick like Dude, Where's My Car? or Half Baked. There is an actual narrative that is patently absent in other films of the stoner ilk. Hell, just saying there is a narrative is enough to set it apart from that fare. Dale and Saul's quest is not to find their misplaced car or get to fucking White Castle. Theirs is one of survival. They are thrust into an action film, and the marriage of the two forms is bliss.

As I have said in other reviews of comedies, I will refrain from revealing any jokes, as the freshness of the humor is especially important in my eyes, but it should come as no surprise that just like the action, the comedy in the film works. Franco and Rogen's comedic instincts are superb, and there should be no disappointment in anything in the film from the humor standpoint.

Pineapple Express is another winning film from Apatow Productions and leaves you wanting more. I guess that's all you can ask. They can only make so many films a year.

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