August 4, 2008

300 Words About: Pineapple Express

Killing time, waiting for a funnier movie...

If not for these languid summer months, would we even have stoner comedies like Pineapple Express? Elsewhere in the year they would get lost (see Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay), but in August they exist not only to provide a brief respite from the heat, but to ensure that any remaining brain cells we have are thoroughly eliminated before Oscar season (and for some people, school) starts again in the fall.

Unfortunately, the Judd Apatow-produced Pineapple Express is too busy killing its own brain cells to do any damage to ours. Hardly written and awkwardly edited, it's an altogether disappointingly dumb movie, made worse by the fact that we know everybody involved has done better. I didn't say it wasn't funny -
James Franco and especially Danny McBride (star of this year's The Foot Fist Way) are terrific in their roles as ditzy dealers, and Seth Rogen essentially channels himself as Ben Stone from Knocked Up. Seemingly every other line is ad-libbed and there's plenty of violent action to keep the momentum going. Boys 12 and under will love it.

So why isn't Pineapple Express a better movie? Three reasons: 1.) We're missing Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill; 2.) Apatow traditionally inserts a female outlier into each of his casts, (Christina Applegate in Anchorman, Catherine Keener in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but this being one of the most macho Apatow movies yet, there is no such female presence, and the movie aches for someone to not only balance out the testosterone, but to bounce the best jokes off of; and 3.) Indie-drama director David Gordon Green (Snow Angels) is handcuffed by a moronic story and a skeleton script. His precious idea that he did a movie like Pineapple Express "to switch gears" is made meaningless by the fact that his involvement (at least appears to be) so limited. Can anyone point out for me the definitively Green aspects of this movie? Either way, any genuine attempt at making this movie something other than juvenile shenanigans would be yet another strike against Pineapple Express.

I'm fully aware that most people's expectations for Pineapple Express will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy; many will consider it the funniest movie of the year so far. But you'll have a hard time convincing me the movie is better than the trailer, or that our standards for blockbuster comedies are not still way too low.

27 comments:

  1. Yeah, you sum it all up quite bluntly and I would think quite accurately. I wion't ever see this one, even if the alternative is an old-fashioned kind of Chinese water torture.
    But you do admit, rightfully that the summer month soffer little respite from this lamentable fare.

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  2. I still might see this later this month (it only opens in SA in October), if I am in the mood for it. Before the so-so reviews started surfacing, I was really looking forward to it, now not so much.

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  3. Daniel-

    Just wondering here...

    Do you live in the future where you are able to see all of these movies before everyone else can??? :)

    Now, for what you said, it's kinda what worried me about Pineapple Express. I'm expecting disappointment. Well, check that... I'm not expecting dissappointment, b/c I've never liked a David Gordon Green film, but I was hoping to see Franco fly off the screen in a starmaking moment b/c I think he has the ability to be a great comedy actor in the future.

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  4. Ouch, Sam. It wasn't quite that painful, but it was sure disappointing. At best, it's only worth a late night DVD rental or something.

    Go for it, Nick. Different types of humor for different people.

    Actually, Fox, I haven't even seen it. I just write about what I saw in the trailer.

    Just kidding. A friendly "real" critic has allowed me to tag along on a number of these preview screenings, and lots of them are radio station promotional screenings. I'm sure they have them in your area as well. Other, smaller films I've seen at film festivals or random previews.

    I actually never saw Green's George Washington, but I've been meaning to. Needless to say, I'm sure it's nothing like Pineapple.

    Franco definitely works, but there's not really enough room for him to be the star of the show.

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  5. "Either way, any genuine attempt at making this movie something other than juvenile shenanigans would be yet another strike against Pineapple Express.

    Is it just me, or does this statement seem to have fulfilled your own prophecy for the movie? It's as if you're knocking it for being thin and juvenille in the rest of your review, but with this statement, admit that you would have knoecked even if it weren't. Can it win?

    Maybe I'm reading that wrong, though...

    Also, I understand that you (or I) might miss a Hill or Rudd appearance, but by the same token, wouldn't we all like to see them be able to make a film without the "whole gang's" involvement? Imagine if they were there - would you have knocked it for including them yet again? I'm not inferring that you would, just asking. I'm not sure what I'd say, but I think it's a double-edged sword for Apatow and co.

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  6. I'm still going to see this one because the Internet types will be all over it, but I have a bad feeling I'm going to like it even less than you did.

    Aprapos of nothing, I just noticed last night that the junky closed down shopping center where they filmed large chunks of the car chase scene is near the building I work in.

    I've lived here 11 years and that kind of thing still tickles me. Why? because I'm a huge dork.

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  7. Never one to let me off easy, are you, Fletch? Seriously, it's great. Makes me more thoughtful (I hope) about what I'm doing.

    I think you're making it sound (and maybe it was my fault in the first place) that I wouldn't have given Pineapple Express a shot regardless of the elements - that I wrote it off before seeing it. While I'll admit that my expectations were pretty low (based on Apatow's track record, not on the trailer), I really do think I tried to give it a fair shot going in. It had all the elements I thought I would like, but like with pretty much all the recent Apatow movies, it just wasn't AS good as I hoped.

    Regarding the attempt-at-drama statement, well I think I just meant that a stoner action comedy directed by an indie-drama director is still a stoner action comedy, so maybe Green's involvement was just a bad idea to begin with.

    I don't think I would have unconditionally knocked it for its cast; I've come to accept that the same people are in these over and over. Actually, as in Step Brothers and Knocked Up, I enjoyed Ken Jeong as much as anyone else. I know you're not accusing me of cast bias, but I still don't think it's a major issue for me.

    Which doesn't mean the same cast shouldn't still be making better movies. That's what I'll admit to: really high expectations from what most people would consider the best American comedy team around right now.

    You're in good company here, Craig. I've been known to pause a DVD or two to point out a place I've lived or visited. I imagine it's pretty obnoxious. Maybe I should just remain silently excited.

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  8. Eh, I'm still going to go see this and I'm sure I'll laugh my ass off.

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  9. I agree with pretty much everything stated in the review. It is light on substance and Green's involvement seems decidedly uninvolved, but the film is funny and their are certainly worse movies that came out this summer.

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  10. I wouldn't doubt it, k, especially if you have any kind of soft spot for James Franco. Danny McBride was what did it for me, though. His performance here almost makes me like The Foot Fist Way even more than I did.

    Thanks, Matt. There sure have been worse films - pretty much anything in June comes to mind. Tropic Thunder is the last gasp for summer...

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  11. I love James Franco. I think he's enormously talented, and wish he would start picking good films. He was in a string of stinkers for a while there (which he even admits were bad) and I'm really encouraged about his upcoming films... Pineapple, Milk, Howl, etc. I want him to do more comedy. The guy is a natural comedic actor, which was very clear on Freaks and Geeks.

    Danny McBride is someone I know from Funny or Die, and all I can hear about is how funny McBride and Franco are in the film. I'm looking forward to their performances.

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  12. I think I may have enjoyed this a bit more than you did, Daniel, but that might not be saying much. I'm not looking forward to writing on this film in the slightest... it wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. I am ambivalent. Ugh. I hate writing reviews of films I'm ambivalent towards.

    This goes back to that point in my film critic article about developing a "theory of trash." I'm realizing how undeveloped my own theory is, as it's quite the chore to figure out an interesting way to approach a film that is very competent but truly unspectacular.

    Hey, at least it was better than Step Brothers. Perhaps that can be the entirety of my review.

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  13. McBride is solid in Tropic Thunder as well, which is easily my favorite "blockbuster" film this summer.

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  14. I definitely want to see Milk, k. I have to admit I haven't seen much of "Freaks and Geeks" (which most people would say prevents me from being able to say anything at all about Apatow), but it's still too bad for Franco that he's mostly known from Spider-Man and movies like Annapolis. McBride is definitely an up-and-comer.

    Ha, I know what you mean, Evan. I shrugged my shoulders walking out but ended up just writing about how disappointed I was. Instead of out and out criticizing it, I tried to identify why it wasn't as good as it could have been. I didn't really do that with Step Brothers.

    I think I'm seeing TT tomorrow night, Matt, a little more hopeful after your recommendation.

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  15. Freaks and Geeks is pretty close to perfect, Daniel. If you are ambivalent or indifferent towards Judd Apatow in general, Freaks and Geeks will change your mind. He and Paul Feig, along with the extraordinary cast, crafted a piece of genius. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I can't speak highly enough of that show.

    And yeah, I am sad that Franco is only known for those roles. Spiderman isn't bad, exactly, but he was criminally underused in that franchise. And films like Annapolis and Tristan + Isolde... well, I just block them out and pretend they don't exist. Apparently he does as well, so it's all good.

    I'm very much looking forward to Milk and Howl. Franco's a good actor looking for the right part, and I think he's FINALLY getting the hang of it. Would you say, if anything, he goes completely against type in Pineapple Express? I think it's important he distance himself from this image people have of him, and that was always part of my hope for Pineapple Express.

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  16. After obnoxiously showing this trailer and the Franco acting skits to everyone I know ad nauseum, I am obviously excited to go see this movie. It will be interesting to see how my thoughts compare with our relative disagreements on the main players. Also, I agree with K, talking about Apatow without having seen F+G's is like reviewing the Life Aquatic without having seen Rushmore.

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  17. ...Not that it can't be done, you're just missing some warm feelings towards those involved

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  18. Yes, k, for most people who haven't seen him in F+G, it will be a big surprise. It was the first thing I ever saw him in, but like pretty much every TV show, I just didn't invest myself in it and can't claim to know any of the episodes well.

    I thought he was great in In the Valley of Elah, even if it was a tiny role.

    Part of me is wondering what he's looking for. Pineapple would be an obvious step back in the comedy direction, but then he turns around to do Milk and Rodanthe. I think he needs to make up his mind. Either way he has a lot of potential, but personally I think he could make a much bigger splash if he starting doing more legitimate dramas.

    Yeah I know you've been looking forward to it, too, Boland. Everybody has, including me. Like I said, a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way, this hanging out as a carrot all summer. Maybe my expectations were just too high.

    Yeah, you got me on not knowing F+G or Undeclared well, but I figure it should count for something that I've seen almost every Apatow movie, with the exception of Drillbit Taylor and The TV Set.

    Here's a question - why hasn't Paul Feig written anything in 5 years?

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  19. Undeclared is another hidden gem. I own the series on DVD, and it makes me laugh everytime I put it on.

    I don't know that Franco has to choose drama OR comedy. I mean, the guy is only 30, and he's trying out different things, different characters. Nothing wrong with that. It's refreshing -- I mean, Rogen knows what he wants to do, and as much as I like him, it's getting a little tired.

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  20. If Hollywood would ever listen to my ideas, there would be a movie off-season and I could catch up on every TV show I've missed in the last 10 years.

    You're right, there's nothing wrong with mixing up genres. Some people can do it beautifully - off the top of my head, Ben Kingsley, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, even Will Ferrell. But part of me thinks it's probably beneficial to establish yourself in one genre before branching out. It doesn't seem Franco's career has progressed as much as we might have thought it would 10 years ago.

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  21. Hope for those who are excited for PE: high praise from the local critic that I saw it with. Big surprise to me. I knew he thought it was funny but didn't realize he was hooked into the emotional angle as well.

    Incidentally, it looks like most critics are buzzing about the action more than the drama.

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  22. Does it help if you're baked going in?

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  23. I was interested in seeing this. I might save it for the DVD.

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  24. I see Ebert gave PINEAPPLE EXPRESS three and a half (out of four) stars heading up his review today. And the film is doing 71%
    at RT.......who would have thought this possible?

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  25. That seems to be the word on the street, Christian, though it's not my style.

    I think I'd rather see it on DVD than in the theater again, Joseph, if that makes any sense.

    I know, Sam, I've been seeing it rise. Well I did say "many will consider it the funniest movie of the year so far", so it wasn't a total surprise. I knew I was going out on a limb on this one!

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  26. So... finally saw it today. You are exactly right that the trailer is better than the film.

    As for the film, I thought it was dreadful. My wife suggested my reaction was simply because I had a headache at the time, but now my headache is gone, I've thought about it a lot... and I still think it's garbage.

    Hmm... I wonder what could have been causing that headache????

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  27. Hmm, well I guess that answers Christian's question about state of mind while watching it.

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