Tokin’ of affection

A friend with weed is a friend indeed.

That is the lesson to be extracted from the latest comedy off the Judd Apatow assembly line, “Pineapple Express.” While it may get anti-marijuana advocates abuzz with consternation, it’s a sweet little trip until a dramatic shift to violence quite literally calls the cops to this feel-good party.
“Express” is laced with guffaws and gunplay, and while not as startlingly schizophrenic as this summer’s “Hancock,” it still feels as though its personalities are squished together in such a forced fashion, it threatens to disrupt the good vibes it garners through much of the film. And, like all of Apartow’s blockbuster comedies before it (“Knocked Up,” Superbad,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), it overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes.

Imagine, if you will, an entire film devoted to the ganja-clouded escapades of Brad Pitt’s Floyd, the moviewestoner he portrayed in Tony Scott’s “True Romance (one of Pitt’s best, albeit brief, performances on screen). James Franco channels Floyd, but successfully layers him with empathy and a hint of sadness. Franco is perhaps best known as Peter Parker’s frenemy in the “Spider-Man” trilogy, as well as generic junk like “Annapolis” and “Flyboys,” which focused more on his Abercrombe and Fitch good looks than his acting chops. In “Express” he hides his sculptured silhouette behind a mop of greasy hair and clothes even a college hamper would reject. As Saul, he’s a well-connected dealer who, despite his numerous contacts, remains rather friendless, reduced to surface conversations with his quasi-anonymous clientèle whose illegal purchases makes them more than a tad jittery to hang out for deeper disucssions.

When Dale (played by co-writer Seth Rogan) pops by for his weekly fix, Saul reaches out by not only introducing him to the headlining herb, but shares his beloved concoction, a triple-ended joint that apparently induces a supreme high.

Dale, reluctant at first, humors Saul and doesn’t pass up the chance for a token toke. A tiny connection is made before Dale darts off to his thankless gig as a process server that at least provides him the opportunity to blaze up between deliveries.

During one seemingly routine stop, Dale witnesses a murder and, in his drug-clouded escape, manages to smash a couple cars and attract the attention of the killers (Gary Cole and Rosie Perez). When he seeks the aid of Saul in a panic, it sets off a series of successively darker detours into pot-fueled paranoia that, were it not for the comic chops of its supporting cast, would otherwise derail this ride.

Rogan does his best Rogan, meaning he coasts along with his standard understated charm and his proclivity to cling to the bliss of adolescence. It’s Franco who brings out the best of the film, operating under the haze of his trade and letting humanity bubble to the surface at all the right (high) times.

But Franco alone could not buoy the picture as it slowly descends into its bloody conclusion. He’s helped by the go-to guy for straight-faced snickers Danny McBride, as the link between Saul and the local drug kingpin, as well as Craig Robinson (from “The Office”) and Kevin Corrigan as two henchmen dispatched to extinguish the leads.

Throughout there are throwaway bits that could have easily tightened the two-hour escapade, most notably the romance between Rogan’s Dale and his high school girlfriend (yes, she is technically “of age,” but that makes it no less icky). We get that this guy’s unable to motivate into adulthood, but the real relationship here is the one he strikes with Saul.

Stylistically, the film breaks free from the relatively staid comedic efforts of recent past, credited to director David Gordon Green, an indie filmmaker whose known more for his dramatic muscle and given the film more flourish than it deserves.

The stoner comedy is one that’s typically made on a shoestring and relies heavily on its hazy humor than on plot or artistry (Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, “Half Baked”), and occasionally it will be elevated into headier territory (“Dazed and Confused,” “The Big Lebowski,” “The Wonder Boys”). But this may be the first stoner action film ever made, perhaps because the two adjectives are so diametrically opposed.

“Pineapple Express” would be much easier to inhale if the aftertaste was not so bitter.

~ by usesoapfilm on August 11, 2008.

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