In the tradition of Cheech & Chong , Abbott and Costello , Hope and Crosby , Ricky and Lucy, Martin and Lewis , Rowan and Martin, Smothers and Smothers, Sanford and son, Spicoli and Hand , Bert and Ernie, Riggs and Murtaugh , cops and robbers, dumb and dumber, right brain and left, peanut butter and jelly, bong hit, roach clip and Snoop Doggy Dogg comes "Pineapple Express," a stoner comedy that partakes of a gentle indie vibe before hitting the hard stuff for a major Shane Black-style blowup and meltdown.
If you think you've seen this movie before, you probably have caught its multiple inspirations. It was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who turned their adolescent agonies into "Superbad," a charming smutfest about three hormonally freaked-out teenage boys. The two screenwriters have become major since then, in particular Mr. Rogen, who also starred in Judd Apatow's family-values comedy "Knocked Up" and has recently lent his voice to one too many children's movies. In some respects "Pineapple Express" plays out like a louder, nastier, more violent and ostensibly adult follow-up to "Superbad," except that Mr. Rogen, who had a supporting part in the first film as a slacker cop, has moved far enough up the studio food chain to now take a starring role.
He takes that star role and, after some humorously offbeat dithering with his co-star, James Franco, runs so hard with it that you can count the beads of sweat flying off his increasingly bunched forehead. That's too bad because the dithering proves to be his finest hour and the movie's best reason for being. It's then that the director, David Gordon Green, a regional filmmaker who's been making a beeline for the mainstream (from the lyrical "George Washington" to the melodramatic "Snow Angels"), hits a sweet, sweet groove while Mr. Rogen's pot patron, Dale, parties and, yes, of course, bonds with Mr. Franco's dingbat dealer, Saul, amid waves of playful nonsense, some idle and sentimental chatter, brutal and funny slapstick and a mushroom cloud of smoke.
In doper-comedy tradition, the plot is the least of it. Dale, a process server who rattles around Los Angeles in his junker, chronically tuning out while tuned in to talk radio, needs to score, and Saul is happy to oblige. Alas, the primo marijuana Dale buys during the day — the Pineapple Express of the title — proves near-fatal that evening after he witnesses a murder and leaves a telltale roach behind at the scene. The killer, Ted Jones (the comically reliable Gary Cole), and his policewoman partner (Rosie Perez, unsmiling and unamusing), figure out the pot's provenance and, like a murderous Hansel and Gretel, trace the smoldering breadcrumb back to Saul, which is how the laidback dealer and his client end up fleeing for their lives.
For a while, it's all nice and easy and suitably mellow. Mr. Franco, something of a James Dean look-alike who appeared with Mr. Rogen in the cult television show "Freaks and Geeks" (a launchpad for Mr. Apatow, among others), has been best known for playing second fiddle to a superhero in the "Spider-Man" blockbusters. (Those sculptured cheekbones worked well for him in a cable biopic about Dean.) He's delightful as Saul, loosey-goosey and goofy yet irrepressibly sexy, despite that greasy curtain of hair and a crash pad with a zero WAF (Woman Acceptance Factor). It's an unshowy, generous performance and it greatly humanizes a movie that, as it shifts genre gears and cranks up the noise, becomes disappointingly sober and self-serious.
That mood swing, which plunges Dale and Saul into violence with a whole lot of bad dudes (including generic Asians in ninja suits), guns and explosions, is startling, crudely choreographed and just the kind of big finish a dead-ended writer or two might come up with while searching for a third act and lighting up to a Steven Seagal flick in the wee hours. That sounds better than it plays, largely because Mr. Rogen, who will soon be wearing a mask in a Green Hornet movie, looks so earnest and unfunny when playing the hero. Mr. Franco happily keeps the stoner faith, as does Danny McBride, whose unfailingly polite drug dealer steals the show even as Dale and Saul, of course, of course, fall in brotherly love.
"Pineapple Express" is rated R. (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.) Extreme violence, generous profanity and copious marijuana usage.
Opens on Wednesday nationwide.
Directed by David Gordon Green; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Judd Apatow, Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Craig Alpert; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Mr. Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes.
WITH: Seth Rogen (Dale), James Franco (Saul), Gary Cole (Ted), Rosie Perez (Carol) and Danny McBride (Red).
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