Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 8/10/08.
Throughout the history of cinema, there's been collaborations that have proved to be very fruitful whether it's the films of John Ford that starred John Wayne, the direction-producing team of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, or the crazed collaboration between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski. Then there's some that seem baffling whether it's a pairing between two individuals from different worlds. Now another strange collaboration has arrived. This time it's film producer and comedy kingpin Judd Apatow and up-and-coming American indie auteur David Gordon Green for a stoner-action comedy entitled Pineapple Express.
Directed by David Gordon Green based on a story by Judd Apatow, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen that was turned into a script by Goldberg and Rogen. Pineapple Express tells the story of a lazy stoner who visits his dealer as they smoke a rare yet potent form of marijuana called the Pineapple Express. When the stoner sees a murder by a crooked police officer and a powerful drug lord, the stoner and his dealer go on the run from the people that are trying to kill them. A genre-bending film that mixes Apatow's brand of lowbrow humor, stoner comedies, low-budget action, and Green’s unique visual style. It's a film that allows one of America's finest young directors a chance to be in the spotlight while Judd Apatow branches out his style of comedy.
Starring Apatow regulars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, Kevin Corrigan, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, and Ken Jeong along with Green cohorts Danny R. McBride and Eddie Rouse. Also starring Amber Heard, Rosie Perez, James Remar, Nora Dunn, and Ed Begley, Jr. Pineapple Express is fun, thrilling, and entertaining film from producer Judd Apatow and director David Gordon Green.
Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) works as a process server serving people subpoenas while in his spare time, smokes marijuana and hang out with his high school girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard). Dale decides to visit his dealer Saul (James Franco) to get some marijuana as Saul shows him some rare, potent marijuana called the Pineapple Express. They smoke it as Saul asks Dale to hang around more but Dale had to go serve a subpoena to a man named Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Jones turns out to be a drug lord as he and a female cop named Carol (Rosie Perez) have just killed an Asian man that Dale witnesses. Leaving behind a roach clip of the weed he just smoked, Dale realizes that Saul is going to be in trouble as the two hide out while taking the rare Pineapple Express crop.
Things get worse when Saul's supplier/friend Red (Danny R. McBride) is in trouble as he's confronted by Jones’ two thugs Matheson (Craig Robinson) and Budlofsky (Kevin Corrigan). Red is beaten while Dale and Saul hide out in the woods where they get even more stoned, stranded in the woods since the car's battery runs out. They hitchhike back to the city to meet Red who has revealed to them that they're all in trouble. Dale and Saul are still on the run as Ted is convinced that they're working for an Asian crime family. In order to get money, Dale and Saul sells a few strands of weed to kids as Dale gets in trouble by a police officer. Yet, Carol hears that Dale has been caught and Saul tries to save the day as the two are now being chased by Carol. After everything the two had been through, a big disagreement lead to the two men separating.
With Saul hoping to reach out to his grandmother, he is immediately captured while Dale has a revelation after calling Angie, who is hiding out along with her parents (Ed Begley Jr. & Nora Dunn), as he learns that Saul has been captured. Turning to an already wounded Red, the two decide to save Saul at an underground base while an all-out war between Jones and Asians get out of hand as it's up to a few incompetent stoners to save the day.
The film's plot is simple yet it's inspired by stoner films of the past and present. What Judd Apatow and screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg create is this premise. What if a couple of incompetent stoners are on the run and mayhem ensues, while getting high? That's pretty much the plot and idea of the movie. Rogen and Goldberg create is essentially a genre-bending film that crosses the buddy-movie, stoner films, comedy, and action. Yet, the idea might come from someone like Judd Apatow though a few jokes don't actually work. Yet, it's the chemistry between the characters Dale and Saul that really drive the film as well as their relationship. It's about two guys, who often do dumb things while getting high and make a mess of things while running away from criminals, an Asian mob group, and a crooked cop.
While all of these ideas and such might make a good stoner film that audiences can enjoy and watch but the big question for Judd Apatow and his associates is who is going to tell this story and how? Which is why Apatow turns to one of American cinema's finest and most promising film directors in David Gordon Green. While it's Green's biggest budget film to date at $25 million, Green and his team that includes longtime cinematographer Tim Orr a chance to let loose. While several scenes and set-ups of the scenes are more in line with Apatow's brand of improvisational comedy. It's Green's restrained, stylized direction that sets the film apart from the other Apatow films. Largely because he comes from a very visual approach to compositions and staging where he'll let the actors do their thing yet take the camera to have everything unfold.
Green's direction is also unconventional where the film opens in a black-and-white flashback scene in 1937 where a soldier (Bill Hader) is being interrogated under the influence of marijuana where that base would be seen again late in the film. Yet, Green's use of long shots for some of the film's exterior scenes. Particularly the outside of the farm/base and the woods scene show Green's often dream-like yet enchanting view of the world. Those scenes are reminiscent to Green's other films while harkening the reminders of Green’s major influence in his mentor, Terrence Malick. Malick's influence in this film is everywhere as a lot of the chasing and premise is definitely inspired by his 1973 landmark debut film Badlands.
It's not the first time Green has used that film as an example but for a stoner-action comedy, it makes the film stand out on its own against a lot of Apatow's other films and productions. While it's not perfect, the film is very entertaining and very funny as credit should go to David Gordon Green for bringing something new and unique rather than making a film whose premise and story could've been an average comedy.
Green's longtime cinematographer Tim Orr does some wonderful camera work that is looser than his previous work with Green. Yet, it has the grimy, dark-colored look of other Apatow films like Superbad. Still, Orr does create some great, colorful shots for the film's exterior scenes. Notably the daytime shots in the woods that has that trademark look of Green's cinematic style mixed in with Apatow's own films. Though not as great as his other work with Green, Orr provides some solid cinematography to the film. Editor Craig Alpert does nice, stylized cuts that uses elements of jump-cuts, side-swipes, and other styles to create a unique, artful style that is more unique than in previous Apatow films as it adds a nice sense of rhythm and tone.
Production designer Chris L. Spellman and set decorator Bob Kensinger do a great job in the look of the underground base that later becomes Ted Jones' marijuana crop as well as the farm and homes of Red and Saul that all look like a typical stoner home. Costume designer John A. Dunn does excellent work in the look of the male characters with Saul and Red looking like they’ve been wearing pajamas while Dale wears a tan-like business suit throughout the entire movie with Amber Heard wearing some great dresses. Sound editors George H. Anderson and Michael O'Farrell do great work in capturing the sound of the film's action scenes including guns and other things to emphasize it's action.
The film's soundtrack is wonderfully assembled by music supervisor Jonathan Karp with great, intense score work from Graeme Revell along with music by Spiritualized, Eddy Grant, Peter Tosh, Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, Public Enemy, Bell Biv Davoe, and other artists ranging from reggae to hip-hop. Yet, another song that stands out is the theme song from none other than 80s superstars Huey Lewis & the News whose song is brilliant as it's just good to hear those guys again.
The casting by Kerry Barden, Suzanne Crowley, and Billy Hopkins is superb featuring appearances from James Remar as a general in the opening flashback scene and Apatow cohort Bill Hader as an army private getting high from marijuana. Other Apatow regulars like Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Jeong are funny with Lo Truglio as a teacher harassing Dale over his visit and Jeong as a member of the Asian mob. Another small cameo that David Gordon Green fans might recognize is Eddie Rouse as one of Ted Jones' thugs while Cleo Jones has a memorable role as a cop who catches Dale smoking weed. Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn are great as Angie's parents as the two veteran actors get a chance to curse and actually do something funny. Amber Heard is excellent as Angie, Dale's high-school girlfriend who is wondering about Dale's commitment and the situation she's in as she has a funny moment during her altercation with Saul.
Apatow regulars Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson are excellent and funny as Budlofsky and Matheson respectively. Corrigan and Robinson add humor and a moodiness to their characters as Corrigan's character is more concerned about going home while Robinson tries to act tough but is all emotional. Gary Cole, another Apatow regular, is excellent as Ted Jones, a crime lord whose hope for a relaxing weekend is unhinged as he tries to maintain control. Rosie Perez is great as the corruptive cop Carol who is the straight person to Cole's more unhinged character as she is the character in control while managing to be act all badass. Green cohort Danny R. McBride is very funny as Red, Saul's supplier who is beaten by thugs and everything until he and Dale decides to help out. McBride's performance is a standout as he's becoming one of the new rising comedy stars that's coming out in today's comedies.
Finally, there's Seth Rogen and James Franco in their best performances to date. Though Rogen’s performance doesn't top with his more mature role in Knocked Up, Rogen is great as the straight-man of the duo as he's the one trying to get everything together and get Saul to join him in the chase. Yet, it's James Franco that's the real surprise. Though he's known to audiences for his work in the Spider-Man movies as well as a bunch of other mediocre to bad mainstream films. Franco returns to his comedy roots as he wonderfully plays the inept stoner Saul as everything he does, it's always bad. Yet, Franco's performance is full of wonder and best of all, he's even better with Seth Rogen by his side as they make one hell of a duo.
Pineapple Express isn't just one of the year's best comedies but also one of the year's best films thanks in large part to the strange collaboration of comedy kingpin Judd Apatow and indie auteur David Gordon Green. Fans of Judd Apatow's comedies will no doubt enjoy the film's hijinks as well as its approach to the stoner-film genre. The film also might appeal to fans of David Gordon Green's work due to Green's take on buddy comedies and on-the-run films. In the end, Pineapple Express is a wonderful, entertaining, and exciting stoner-action comedy from the minds of Judd Apatow, his cohorts, and director David Gordon Green.
David Gordon Green Films: George Washington - All the Real Girls - Undertow - Snow Angels - (Your Highness) - (The Sitter) - (Prince Avalanche) - Joe (2013 film - (Manglehorn)
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