For several decades, Hollywood spoofs followed the Mel Brooks/Abrahams and Zucker format of complete silliness and lack of narrative cohesion. Movies like Space Balls and Airplane take a movie or genre and spoof it into the ground, with no attempt to make it a watchable or enjoyable experience, beyond the spoofing. This has led to all the "Movie" films (Scary, Epic, etc) many of which are by Abrahams and/or the Zuckers, in which gag after gag is piled up, all of which you're simply supposed to laugh at because they remind you of something else.
For the last decade or so, a new brand of movie arrived. Scream, in fact, might be the first of these, but they've really exploded in the last few years: Dodgeball; Shaun of the Dead; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang; Hot Fuzz; Old School; Galaxy Quest, etc. Each of them is both a parody, satire, or meta-genre picture and an actual example of that genre. Whereas Airplane is only a spoof of a disaster movie, Dodgeball is both a spoof of a sports movie and a sports movie - it lampoons all of the sports movies cliches while simultaneously asking us to enjoy them.
And at last we get to Pineapple Express, the supposed subject of this review. Pineapple Express is the mostly forgettable newest entry to this list: a stoner movie that becomes a meta-action movie. Especially in its latter half, in which the bullets start flying and the Asian assassins become prevalent, Express asks us to both laugh at and enjoy action movie cliches. Unfortunately, in the burgeoning meta-action picture genre (which is about to include Tropic Thunder) Pineapple Express doesn't make much of a mark.
Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy the movie. The story is relatively clever: a process server and his drug dealer go on the run when the process server witnesses a drug-related killing and the two realize the roach he left at the scene of the crime can be traced back to them. James Franco, finally shedding his pretty boy act, is fantastic as the dealer, and Seth Rogen brings his reliable regular guy who just happens to really like smoking weed persona to the server. Their sometime ally and enemy Red is played by Danny McBride, who was not very good in the not very funny Foot Fist Way. McBride shines here; he gets all the good lines, may of which sound like adlibs.
But I consider this movie a failure, after last year's Superbad (written by the same people and starring some of them) was not just the funniest movie of the year but probably the funniest of this century. Many of the jokes and running gags seem forced; even the banter between Franco and Rogen, which should have the relaxed quality of Rogen and Paul Rudd's classic "You know how I know you're gay?" scene, seems to be trying to hard. And the action movie cliches just add to this problem; it's as if the filmmakers are hitting us over the head with the knowledge that they're using cliches. We get it, Seth, Evan, and David. We get it. Try again, and come back when you have something as good as Superbad. Or Knocked Up. Or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Or 40-Year Old Virgin.
Let's hope Stiller and company offer up something better with Tropic Thunder. Otherwise this summer - probably the best in history - could end quite poorly.