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Pineapple Express

(2008) ** 1/2 R
112 min. Sony Pictures Releasing. Director: David Gordon Green. Cast: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, James Remar, Joe Lo Truglio.

/content/films/3167/3.jpgEarly in the stoner action comedy Pineapple Express, co-writer/star Seth Rogen delivers a litany of reasons why pot is beneficial, culminating in "It makes shitty movies better." While certainly true, the line also reads as a winking self-reference to the film's own limited ambition. Of course Rogen, uber-producer Judd Apatow, and director David Gordon Green want Pineapple Express to be good, but they'll settle for it being "good when you're high."

The plot situates nerve-wracked, pot-smoking process server Dale Denton (Rogen) and his dim-bulb pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) in the middle of a drug war. Before the thriller plot kicks in, Rogen and co-screenwriter Evan Goldberg (Superbad) take their time establishing Denton, his awkward relationship of three months with a high-school girl (Amber Heard), and his tentative friendship with Saul, a lonely stoner in the mood to bond with nice client Dale since all of Saul's other customers are apparently idiots and jerks. The laid-back scene introducing Saul is easily one of the film's best. Rogen is winningly casual and certainly funny (not to mention credible as a lifelong toker), but Franco turns in a magnificently free and spontaneous performance that's both wholly believable and hilarious.

The trouble begins when Saul offers Dale the cream of the crop: a rare new pot blend called Pineapple Express ("It's like God's vagina," Saul enthuses). Dale shortly becomes witness to a murder, leaving behind a telltale roach. The not-so-dynamic duo goes on the run, troubleshooting on the way Dale's girlfriend and her parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn). Comic actor of the moment Danny McBride (Drillbit Taylor, The Foot Fist Way) plays Red, an untrustworthy acquaintance who sparks a purposefully clumsy fight sequence amongst the three men and, like the killer in a horror movie, refuses to go quietly from the film. Craig Robinson (The Office) also brings the funny as an ever-frustrated thug.

These scenes and a subsequent car chase keep the film running for the better part of its first two acts, setting aside a meandering detour to the woods. Rogen and Goldberg reliably deliver amusing non sequiturs (Saul's suggestion that he and Dale could be tracked by "heat-seeking missiles, bloodhounds, foxes, barracudas"), pop culture references (from "Electric Avenue" to 227), and character comedy (like Saul's reaction to learning Dale is a process server: "You're a servant, like a butler?"). Plus, indie stalwart Green and longtime cinematographer Tim Orr inject their dusty visual style, in counterpoint to a prologue that simultaneously parodies, complete with black-and-white and theremin, '50s sci-fi horror and Reefer Madness.

The film runs into a spot of trouble when it has to "grow up" and resolve its plot. Scenes with Gary Cole as the baddie and Rosie Perez as his corrupt-cop lover fail to overcome the reality that they're obligatory plotting (though Perez's character allows for Dale's amusingly wrongheaded appraisal "What an adorable little cop"). And the film has tonal difficulty reconciling the run-of-the-mill exaggeration of action comedy with surreal parody, as when the Asian druglords show up in their ninja blacks (sigh), and we find ourselves watching Ken Jeong (the real-life doctor who played the gyno in Knocked Up) tossing a knife into a guy's neck. Finally, the emotional arc doesn't exactly have a pot of gold at the end of it--an amusingly conceived wrap-up in a diner can't disguise the increasingly familiar taste of Apatow bromance.

To be sure, there's some humor to be mined by aping an '80s-style action movie while subverting '80s action cliches. In one small, well-observed moment, we see how unreasonably easy it is for action stars to pull off manuevers like climbing into a vent and reaching down to hoist someone else off the ground (most of the other skewered cliches are more obvious, like a slo-mo leap and the easy flow of guns and bullets throughout a shootout sequence). The scoring by Graeme Revell is pretty hilarious, and be sure to stay through the credits for the retro Huey Lewis title tune.

Despite its rusty mechanics and hodgepodge of tones, Pineapple Express convincingly imitates the mode of Midnight Run: on-the-run odd-couple comedy with gunplay and car chases. Green has made his first eager-to-please film, and his first that's completely devoid of deeper meaning. These are disconcerting qualities for Green enthusiasts (and multiplex-goers hopefully learning to expect more from the movies). But "green" enthusiasts and Apatow acolytes will happily groove to this movie, and they have enough good reason.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 1/6/2008

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony once again teams with Judd Apatow for a feature-packed special edition, Pineapple Express marking a "high" point of sorts. Sony does it again with a transfer that's simply perfection: the film looks exactly as it did on the big screen, except with none of the flaws of film projection. The picture is rock-solid, exact in its color rendering and detail, deep in its black levels, and completely clean in its source. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack leaves nothing to be desired, with its exciting immersion during action scenes and clarity of dialogue and music throughout the film.

Apatow is known for his in-depth home-video special editions, and Pineapple Express is no exception. For starters, we get the Theatrical Version (112 minutes) and Extended Unrated Version (118 minutes). There's a jam-packed commentary track with no chance of a gap in the conversation. Participants include Apatow, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Ed Begley, Jr., co-writer/producer Evan Goldberg, director David Gordon Green, Craig Robinson, Rosie Perez, producer Shauna Robertson, and Kevin Corrigan. A good time is had by all, including the listener, as the talents chat about the movie and its difficulties (like Franco's head-splitting injury) as well as other random ephemera (like Rogen's story of running into Jeff Goldblum and "pussying out" from telling him about the Jeff Goldblum joke in Pineapple Express).

Next up are 3 "Deleted Scenes" (3:27, SD) and 8 "Extended & Alternate Scenes" (21:06, SD) with some bonus gems of wacky dialogue and situations (shame they're not in HD, though...). "The Making of Pineapple Express" (21:08, HD) is a highly entertaining look at the film's development, casting, rehearsal and production, incorporating interviews with Rogen, Apatow, Goldberg, Green, Franco, McBride, Perez, Gary Cole, Corrigan, Robinson, production designer Chris Spellman, and David Gordon Green's parents Jeanne and Gordon Green. "The Action of Pineapple Express" (12:19, HD) breaks down the major action sequences with Rogen, Franco, Green and stunt coordinator Gary Hymes.

"Phone Booth" (6:25 with "Play All" option, SD) offers two montages of raw takes with Apatow playing Angie on the other end of the phone with Rogen's Dale. "Line-O-Rama" (3:28, SD) is an Apatow tradition rounding up various improv "wild lines." "David Gordon Green's Direct-O-Rama" (3:47, SD) is a new spin, featuring the director's wacky directions to get differing line readings. There's a "Gag Reel" (4:55, SD), followed by some bonus "Item 9" (4:17, SD) skits picked up apparently during breaks in filming. In a similar vein, "Saul's Apartment" (13:46 with "Play All" option, SD) amounts to four sequel shorts with Franco and guests.

"Raw Footage" (32:43 with "Play All" option, SD) serves up uncut takes of several sequences. "Begley's Best" (5:43, HD) isn't the montage of crazy takes it sounds like; rather, it's a documentary featurette following Begley as he processes orders of his environmentally sound cleaning products (it's more fun than it sounds). "Red and Jessica's Guide to Marriage" (4:12, HD) features Danny McBride and a screen bride as they offer up unique tips for a long-lasting marriage. The "Injury Report" (4:56, HD) humorously details (and exaggerates) the film's many mishaps, while "Ken Jeong: Stuntmaster" (3:12, HD) plants tongue firmly in cheek to make "the man" out of the mousy actor.

"Rehearsal 3/6/07--Police Liaison" (5:40, HD) shows a chunk of rehearsal with the director and two actors, providing the uninitiated with a good idea of how words on a page, added to improv, can help develop a scene, with the shooting day providing yet more inspiration for the final product. An excerpt from the "First Table Read 3/4/06" (8:36, HD) provides similar insight, in part by including an elaborate scuba adventure that didn't make it to production. We get a good portion of the "Comic-Con Panel" (7:33, SD) promoting Pineapple Express, including faux nerds asking questions at the mic.

Last up are a "Red Band Trailer" (2:47, HD), Digital Copy on Disc Two for portable playback, and BD Live hookup for more exclusive content available at the Sony website. With all of this added value, Pineapple Express is a no-brainer pick-up for comedy fans.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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