Monday, August 11, 2008

The Pineapple Express

The Pineapple Express is a mid-80s buddy action film as filtered through a haze of pot smoke. The characters are stoners, but after one of them witnesses a brutal murder, they're forced to run for their lives. As they evade the bad guys and the law, they bicker and fight, but eventually become good buds, ready to take on the local drug kingpin in defense of each other. It's not even remotely believable to watch these two go from pothead to action hero, and, were the film a better concoction, I might not have a problem with this. But the movie wants to have it both ways, wants to convince me of the characters' incompetence and then show them blasting away with automatic weapons, emerging victorious in fisticuffs, and etc.. The tone of this thing is so off-kilter; it wants laughs from looney tunes violence and sentiment from honest pain. Other films have succeeded in walking this line between comedy and tragedy--Midnight Run and Hot Fuzz spring to mind--but this one fails miserably. It's such a delicate balance between the two, that it's hard to know where Pineapple fails. But fail it does and it squanders a lot of good will along the way.

It certainly is funny, particularly during the first two-thirds of the film. Watching the two knuckleheads escape from harrowing situations while stoned provides more than one belly laugh. Facing certain-death situations, they come up with far-fetched, logic-free plans to save themselves and then execute these ridiculous solutions with the complete and utter conviction of children. Giving these two so much to do is helpful; the movie mostly avoids the lazy, counterculture insularity that pervades other drug-celebration films (though an opening prologue featuring army experiments with marijuana feels like it's playing directly to those "legalize it" people in the audience, the ones who would tell you the many uses of hemp if you gave them a chance). As they run from one high-stakes situation to the next, it's hard to avoid developing a great deal of affection for these two losers, particularly James Franco's Saul. Franco's performance is a delight. He's got it down pat--the leap from one random idea to the next, the continual need for approval, the "I love you, man" smile. As the straighter man in the duo, Seth Rogen is competent and funny, though his work here feels rather one-note. This may be why the relationship between the two never quite gels; they're clearly having fun, but when the movie asks them to be upset with one another, it's as unconvincing as their marksmanship. To be fair, I think the script has failed the moment more than the acting. They've just evaded death and serious injury in gunfights, fist-fights, high-speed chases, and more, all while completely stoned, and Rogen's character has the gall to shout at Franco, "We don't function well when we're high." Dude, lighten up. If anything you're doing better.

Of course, the character has a reason to be so sour at the moment--his girlfriend's just broken up with him--but, here and in the whole film, there's no connective tissue from one moment to the next. So, while some scenes are funny and work by themselves, the film doesn't work as an entire piece. But, the film is undisciplined and sloppy anyway. Scenes habitually go on far longer than they need to and outwear their welcome. While these scenes play on, you can imagine everyone cracking up on set or in the editing room, but on screen the rhythm is off (probably due to the previous scene going on and on). It sometimes veers into the pathetic "anything-for-a-laugh" mentality that so alienated me from Walk Hard. And, I especially grew tired of the way it relied on overdubbing a funny quip from Rogen over wide shots or cut-aways. All this is ignoring the action set-piece that ends the film, a sequence that goes on for (it must be) 500 years, drains away everything that was funny or endearing about the two leads, and seems to want to both lampoon and be a genuine entry in the buddy action genre. Again, this can work (and again, Hot Fuzz springs to mind), but here it falls flat. Mostly, I just didn't believe the film. It hadn't convinced me that the villains were genuinely threatening or that there were any real stakes in this sequence. It's like watching someone else play a video game, and a not very good one at that.

There are bright spots to be found--Kevin Corrigan should be showered with candies and treasure for his turn as a domesticated henchman. Whenever he was onscreen, I wished the film was about him--and there are some very, very funny high-points, but The Pineapple Express is clunky, disappointing. Translating the tropes of an action film to a couple of pot-addled protagonists seems like a great idea--what do action heroes do, but follow their gut with the conviction of children?--but it misfires. Its failure reminded me of the success of The Big Lebowski, a film that translated the tropes of the hard-boiled mystery novel to a similarly drug-addled protagonist. When The Dude recounts the Raymond Chandler-esque events of the film to the two squares in the back of the limo, it's hilarious and almost a welcome critique of the crazy, unmanageable plots of these mystery stories. You try to explain The Big Sleep to someone who hasn't seen it and see if you sound any more sober. I think a similar sort of transcendence could be found by having two completely stoned action buddies fighting in an action movie plot, but it's not here. The climax of The Pineapple Express is a huge explosion when it should have been a bong hit.

Would be a good double feature with: The Big Lebowski