Friday, August 8, 2008

Pineapple Express

I suppose Pineapple Express is yards away from being a terrible movie. But it's not one to get terribly excited about either, even when you compare it to other films in the Apatow-crowd catalogue. From things I've been hearing from critics and average movie goers alike, I was expecting a sort of stoner-film renaissance, but was left surprisingly underwhelmed. Not to say that the film isn't funny. But there are a few things I'd like to address here.

First of all, David Gordon Green, the film's director. I've loved him since 2003 when he made the quietly affecting All the Real Girls. It prompted me to go back and watch his 2000 debut, George Washington (great). I plan to revisit the rest of his filmography, and I look forward to seeing Snow Angels (also released this year), though it hasn't made its way to Atlanta yet (to give you an idea of how frustrating it is, Atlanta's official "arthouse" theater only has 8 screens, and four of them are currently dedicated to Pineapple Express, Mamma Mia! and The Dark Knight.) I'm totally digressing, my point being that David Gordon Green is about the last person I'd expect to direct a Judd Apatow-produced stoner film.

I can't really describe it any better than to say that, even as far as stoner films go, Pineapple Express feels The film starts off with an opening flashback sequence, which takes place in the late 1930s and involves Bill Hader. The entire scene is unfunny, is a huge miscalculation, and (unless I'm missing something here) is only tangentially related to the plot of the movie. It only serves to bog down the movie, which would have been off to a slow start anyway, even without the ponderous opening scene.

I'm really sick of hearing how James Franco is comic genius in this film and how it's so great to see him playing "against type." Franco's very funny here, sure. But anyone saying that he's playing against type obviously hasn't seen a little show called Freaks and Geeks. Pineapple Express's Saul is more or less an extrapolation of Freaks and Geeks's Daniel Desario.

Also, regarding Judd Apatow and the claims of homophobia in his films...they pretty much hold up. But how forgivable is it? Well, it's the type of homophobia where the audience is asked to laugh at the male camaraderie because the idea of two men loving each other is so bizarre/funny/abhorrent...I could continue with much worse adjectives, but you get the picture. I'm not going to get up on a soapbox about the evils of homophobia and how stupid and dangerous masculinity is in general and how even though femininity is stupid too, it's very much informed negatively by its relationship to masculinity and doesn't stifle forward thinking and encourage aggression and bigotry in the same way that masculinity does (whoops, I guess I just did get up on a soapbox. Oh, well). Here's my verdict about homophobia in Judd Apatow films. It abounds no more or less than it does in most films, which are told from the perspective of the heterosexual male. So I'm not particularly inclined to condemn Judd Apatow. To condemn him is to condemn them all, you know what I mean?

Back to the movie. Seth Rogen doesn't really up his game here, though it's interesting to see him play the straight man to Franco's total stoner/fuckup (or interesting in conception, rather). And Danny McBride, who has been every where this past year. To me, he will always be "Bust-Ass" in All the Real Girls, and I'm not sure how I feel about the manner in which he's becoming famous. But he has a dopey, clueless quality about him that's somewhat endearing.

What of the movie's plot? Well it's needlessly intricate in a manner that borders on tedious. The action sequences provide some laughs along the way (a particularly lengthy fight scene between Rogen, Franco and McBride is one of the funniest things I've seen at the movies this year) but there sure is a lack of connectivity between the chuckles, which are mostly modest at best. And this film is violent...very violent. Seriously, not that it offended me. I was just surprised at the gruesome way in which a lot of character bite the bullet.

Overall, Pineapple Express is fun, if completely missable summer fare. You could do a lot worse, but you could do a whole lot better too.

Grade: B-

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