Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Review: Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express

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.


MovieMan0283 said...

I haven't seen Pineapple Express but if what you describe is true, it sounds like a return to the late-80s school of comedy: make 'em laugh for an hour and a half then throw in a climactic shoot-out which is straight action (although presumably today's comedies due it with more meta-wink irony). Think "Twins," incidentally the first live-action movie I saw in theaters. I was 4, and all I remember from the experience is laughing when Schwarzenegger's car rears up on its back wheels. I guess all the sexual inneundo went over my head.

Graham said...

Oh yeah, that's what I alluded to in my late-summer movie preview: trying to revive the Twins/Beverly Hills Cop/Turner and Hooch/Red Heat Buddy Action comedy which is 3/4 not very funny comedy and 0.25 even worse action.

This movie does an ok job, and as you say, does it with a wink of irony, but could have been so much more. But since we already have Hot Fuzz, I'm not that upset.

Fletch said...

I don't know...the more I think about this one, the more I like it, despite the fact that I didn't laugh a ton at it. And the scenes that featured just Rogen and Franco are my favorites - Franco was damned awesome.

Graham said...

Yeah, one of my friends had the exact same reaction - he didn't like it that much at first, but it's growing on him. That hasn't happened to me yet.

Plus, Tropic Thunder was much funnier.