Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pineapple Express.

At a recent screening of his second film, "All The Real Girls" and third film "Undertow," David Gordon Green explained that he wants to make all types of pictures: everything from straight-to-DVD action flicks to low-budget character portraits. So, if anything, the releases of "Snow Angels" and now "Pineapple Express" this year have marked the beginning of this new, more eclectic cycle in Green's filmmaking. 

"Pineapple Express" follows the antics of a pot smoking civil servant and his pot smoking dealer, played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, respectively, as they unwittingly become the center of a gang war. The film has the usual Apatow sensibility, lining up little modern-culture jokes with littler regard to how they will age once the moment has passed: in "Knocked Up" one of the children says "I googled 'murder' today," and here in "Pineapple" we have a 2 cents McDonalds Supersize joke, a rant on Jeff Goldblum, and plenty of silly slang like "Thug Life" and "Bros before Hoes." No surprises there. What makes Pineapple step away from the crowd of Apatow movies is its very funny, very well choreographed action sequences. And, excitingly, Green is a good fit. 

In the past, Green has had a flare for being a bit too cool when dealing with guns or fight scenes, primarily because his sensibility for fun, semi-outlandish excitement hasn't quite fit with the material. The example that comes to mind is a point in "Snow Angels" when a character commits suicide by gun, and instead of being entirely sad about it I remember being awed at the bullet exiting the car window up into the air. Thanks to this pot-smoking, gun-toting script, though, Green and team can do whatever the hell they want and get away with it, and it is often hilarious. In fact, the more ridiculous the better. The straight-up gun fights are generally boring, but when dust busters, fire extinguishers, ash trays, kitchen sinks, and foots through windows get involved, the film shines.

It has been apparent for while now that mainstream Hollywood comedies can't get anything done without computer animation. Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder" can't even fake a punch to the face without help! Only in this climate would Danny McBride, slammed head first into a bathroom sink via a kicked down door, be refreshing. 

Director of Photography Tim Orr does a good job of reeling in his usually floaty, beautiful camera into strict efficiency for the story and the action. He manages to keep some nice touches every once in a while, like a quick glimpse of a man dressed as Santa doing bench-presses on his lawn, our boys apparently driving a boat down the street, or a final explosion that is perfectly composed. There are also little hints of snazzy editing and perfect choreography, and perhaps its greatest strength is that the art is there if you want to find it, but is highly unnecessary for the story. As much as I want the beauty of "All The Real Girls" to be here in every frame, it is also nice to see the filmmaking crew totally change their goals based on the necessities of a new picture. 

That being said, the film is still intermittent as far as funny goes. The black-and-white intro elicited only a vague chuckle, and unfortunately the very first action sequence is head and shoulders above anything else in the film, to the point which I felt even the foot-in-the-windshield car chase was lacking. Rogen works much better as a supporting character, maybe because he can't really carry anything by acting, and thus McBride steals the show. Franco pulls off the best stunts, while McBride pulls the best jokes, and this leaves Rogen to flounder around in the middle with nowhere to excel. Luckily, the bit-parts make up for Rogen's lack. The gun fights are standard eighties fair, but when Ed Begley, Jr. gets ahold of his rifle things get awesome again. Kevin Corrigan, an actor that has provided hilariousness to Steve Buscemi's "Lonesome Jim" and the Fast Food Macbeth "Scotland, PA," does a funny job here as well as a henchman named Budlofsky.  It is particularly pleasing that McBride, who got his start on a last minute casting choice as Bust-Ass ("His real name's Tracy!") in "All The Real Girls," has now developed his inherent sense of humor into a pretty good career. Good job, sir. 

Watching a weed comedy by my favorite director is not necessarily a strange thing. It doesn't quite have the art of "The Big Lebowski" or anywhere near the charming trio of "Three Amigos," but it was entertaining nonetheless. While "40 Year Old Virgin" remains my favorite Apatow film, this is easily my second favorite. The others hold no competition. 

Movie Review 4 of 10


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