The Pineapple Express is a stoner comedy about two potheads who accidentally start a war between competing drug lords. Given that, I expected a goofy comedy about the drugs and sex. What I didn’t expect was that the movie would grow excessively violent, even gory. When a man’s head is splattered against a window, it puts a kink in the laughs.
Seth Rogan – who should to have the words “Average Joe” tattooed on his neck – stars as Dale Denton, a nice guy who works as a process server. He is in love with his girlfriend Angie (Amber Heard) who is a senior in High School (he’s in his 30s) and they are serious enough that he is ready to meet her parents. He wants to make a good impression but it isn’t likely that Angie’s parents would approve of Dale’s best buddy Saul (James Franco from 127 Hours). Saul is a happy, genial pothead who spends half of his time selling his herb, and the other half inventing new ways to get high. His latest: The Trifecta, a cross-shaped joint that can be lit at three points, thus increasing the potency. Also new to his arsenal is The Pineapple Express, a joint with an effect that he describes as so illegal that it is a crime against nature, “like killing unicorns.”
The problem for Dale begins after a visit to Saul, when he is asked to serve a summons to, ironically enough, Saul’s supplier, a violent drug lord named Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Parked in front of his house, smoking The Pineapple Express, he sees a squad car parked behind him and throws the joint out the window. He also sees, through a giant window, a man inside the house shot in the head. Dale panics and tries to make a very clumsy getaway while parallel parked. Ted and the corrupt lady cop (Rosie Perez) – who brought that squad car – find the joint, know it is from Saul and determine to kill him. This leads Dale and Saul on a wild chase from Ted’s hit men while having little time to figure out what to do, or for Dale to figure out how he is going to sideline the chase in order to have dinner with Angie’s parents.
The movie sounds like a wacky comedy and for most of the way, it is. But WOW is it violent. There are moments when people are shot and the blood splatters from their bodies. The man in Ted’s house is shot in the head and his brains splatter all over the window. Offset that with elements that would be at home in a Cheech and Chong movie and you have a very uncomfortable mix. The characters of Dale and Saul are written as silly doofuses while the characters of the drug lords and the hit men seem grounded in reality, like something out of Scarface.
The movie comes courtesy of a very odd mixture of talents. It was directed by David Gordon Green, who has made two great true-life dramas All the Real Girls and George Washington. It was written by Judd Apatow, the man who has reinvented the notion of the sex comedy by featuring stories about 30-ish males suffering from arrested development. He made Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek and Knocked Up. Here, I think the two styles clash together in an unwholesome mixture. Instead of adolescent adult males facing reality, they are involved in nasty car chases and bloody shoot-outs that interrupt the momentum of the comedy. Given the talent involved, this was a wasted opportunity.