Guy on Guy Action
by Kristi Mitsuda
Dir. David Gordon Green, U.S., Columbia
The high-concept hiring of indie darling David Gordon Green to direct the latest Judd Apatowâ€“produced flick was a stroke of genius in theory. What better way to enliven the output of an already tired one-man cinematic brand and his merry band of acolytes than to bring in an outside agitator to shake things up? And what genre could use a makeover more than the stoner comedy, the demographic of which would certainly appreciate the possibly inspired visuals an art-house stylist might bring to the experience? Although Iâ€™d sworn off Apatow after Knocked Upâ€”a movie so gleefully misogynistic I wanted to clock America on its collective head for falling for itâ€”Greenâ€™s inclusion in the gang made me reconsider. At the very least, Iâ€™d hoped the talent mash-up would produce interesting frissons. Disappointingly, nothing doing: this long-gestating result of pop-art intercourse is stillborn.
Maybe Green smoked too much weed doing research for Pineapple Express; how else to account for the lazy disinterest in the cinematic conception of this strangely galumphing affair from a filmmaker usually attentiveâ€”in concert with his regular cinematographer Tim Orrâ€”to such concerns as composition and lighting? Staid pacing and standard shots held a few beats too long to hit the comedic sweet spot show up Greenâ€™s inexperience in mainstream generic moviemaking. His direction here exhibits nothing so much as that least attractive of stoner attributes: a sluggish inertia. Otherwise his influence on Pineapple Express remains unfelt as Apatowâ€™s concerns dictate the course of action. Based on a story written by the prolific producer, along with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the pair developed it into a screenplay), the movie circles around rituals of heterosexual male bonding, as usual. But this time, as if in response to all the critical chatter surrounding such exclusionary attention to XY-only camaraderie, Team Apatow amps up the homosocial love-in even further to become a spoof of its former self.
The duo this time out is druggie Dale (the ever unappealing Rogen) and dealer Saul (a saccharine James Franco). While Saul thinks of Dale as a friendâ€”he later tears up confessing that the process server is the only customer with whom heâ€™s ever been closeâ€”Dale clearly conceives of theirs as a business relationship: An introductory scene finds the former eager to pseudo-philosophize with his pothead buddy only to have his hopes dashed as the latter commits the cardinal sin amongst stoners by pulling a â€śsmoke and runâ€ťâ€”he ditches the dealer after an abbreviated sesh. Saul is understandably confused since Dale sends mixed messages. Insecure and compelled to feign coolness via misguided slang usage (said proclivity has him drop the word â€śdealioâ€ť into a sentence with a straight face), he confirms Saulâ€™s â€śBFF?â€ť query with an overenthusiastic â€śBFFFâ€ťâ€”â€śBest Fuckinâ€™ Friends Foreverâ€ťâ€”not realizing that, as Urban Dictionary defines it, the â€śfuckinâ€™â€ť translates quite literally.
But the relationship takes on new tones after Dale witnesses a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez) and drug lord Ted (Gary Cole) murder a man. He hightails it back from whence he came only to realize too late heâ€™s implicated Saul by abandoning a joint rolled with the titular herbal blend at the scene of the crimeâ€”Saulâ€™s the only dealer in town selling Pineapple Express. The two set off together, and the film that unfolds doesnâ€™t so much adhere to conventions of the stoner trip as it does those of a romance: A forest montage captures the budding relationship (in shots, as is per usual for Green, cribbed from Malick, this time Badlands), as Dale brushes leaves off Saulâ€™s ass; a declaration by Saul soon follows: â€śThey say, like, donâ€™t dip the pen in company ink . . . Iâ€™m totally glad I dipped in your ink, broâ€ť; a â€śbreak-upâ€ť naturally ensues at the midpoint to create tension, and it sends Saul sobbing into his hamburger on a park swing; the two finally make up after a showdown with their pursuers which concludes with Daleâ€”sans slacks (they were consumed by flames)â€”rescuing Saul from a burning firehouse upon which one says, â€śYou saved meâ€ť to the otherâ€™s â€śYou came back for me.â€ť But this is no epic affair Ă la Sam and Frodo; it isnâ€™t full-hearted enough a depiction for that. Pineapple Express plays out without the attendant affection other Apatow productions evince towards their (male) characters; instead it proceeds with a smirk on its lips, and the movie eventually devolves into one big, baked â€śI love you, man!â€ť moment bereft of any genuine feeling.
In addition to its central pairing, the inclusion of two coded characters teases out implications of homosexuality: Red (Danny McBride), the kimono-robe-wearing middleman between Ted and Saul who, when presented with the hypothetical option of being either an anal bead or dragon in his next life chooses the former, and Matheson (Craig Robinson), one of Tedâ€™s thugs, who nurses feelings of jealousy and neglect as he rags on his partner (Kevin Corrigan) for wanting to go home and eat dinner with his wife every night. But after dangling such possibilities, Pineapple Express disavows them (Dale, creepily, has a girlfriend still in high school; Red mentions a wife). Its homophobic sense of humor informs nearly every detail, from a phallic cactus used as torture device to a scenario that has a captured and bound Dale trying to free his taped hands on Saulâ€™s belt buckle in a sight-gag whose laughs rely on its audienceâ€™s discomfort in watching a simulation of man-on-man sex.
The best stoner moviesâ€”like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (but not its sequel, sadly) and Smiley Face (a small-scale stoner comedy revelatory for its single gal protagonist)â€”take a simple set-up and spin out the possibilities via a disjointed logic which has you (and the character) constantly questioning, â€śHow did I get here?â€ť while maintaining a thin connective tissue. But the belabored plot of Pineapple Express necessitates a dull and overly elaborate action finale that includes the cartoonish killing of one too many generic Asiansâ€”otherwise known as the competing drug-running clanâ€”amongst others, and those factors, on top of its homophobic bait-and-switch, will really harsh your mellow.