Pineapple Express

In theaters.

Part of me wants to just say “I’m not the target audience” and leave it at that. Yes, producer Judd Apatow’s crowd turns out work that can be broadly appealing, witty, even insightful, (though not always, by any stretch), but let’s not kid ourselves: first and foremost, these are movies made by, for, and about overgrown man-boys. Not being an overgrown man-boy myself, maybe I don’t completely get it.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that: comedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What frustrates me about Pineapple Express is that it is to my taste—most of the time. And than along comes a gag or plot turn so discordant and unappealing that I feel as though I’ve been physically pushed out of a circle. After a moment, I swallow my distaste and start laughing again, only to again encounter one of those repellent stink bombs. And each time the movie pushes me away, I become less eager to rejoin it, less certain that I want to keep this company.

The man-boys in this particular production are Dale (Seth Rogen) and Saul (James Franco): a prickly, underachieving process server and his genial pot dealer. After Dale witnesses Saul’s ruthless supplier commit murder, the two go on the run together. Hijinx ensue.

At its best, Pineapple has a light, shaggy charm, thanks in large part to the two leads. Rogen doesn’t appear to have Franco’s depth as an actor, but both the Freaks and Geeks alums possess a gregarious charisma, a quality that makes it easy to feel indulgent toward their characters, even when Dale and Saul are making incredibly dumb decisions in their hazy panic. Pineapple takes the time to nurture that indulgent fondness. An interlude in the woods—in which the stoners lazily play leapfrog and sword fight with sticks—feels poignantly Peter Pan–esque. And the awkwardness of the guys’ vague relationship (Saul thinks of Dale as a friend, while Dale considers himself a mere customer) feels hilariously real.

The screenplay, cowritten by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has its facile, juvenile moments, but most of the laughs grow organically out of the characters, giving the movie a well-observed, affectionate sense of humor. Pineapple has heart, which is why it’s such a jolt what Dale and Saul encounter—and experience—bloody, gruesome violence.

The implied joke is that these guys have no business wandering into an action movie because they have no idea what they’re doing: their experience with guns and martial arts is clearly limited to video games. That idea has potential, but neither Rogen and Goldberg nor director David Gordon Green seem to know how to develop it. The gag begins and ends with Dale and Saul stumbling about with their newly acquired submachine guns, and that’s not all that  funny.

It’s hard to shake the impression that Rogen simply wanted to give himself a big guns-and-explosions fantasy to play with, but that only makes the bloody finale all the more uncomfortable. The giddy juxtaposition of graphic violence (brains and viscera spattered against a window, an oozing bullet wound in the gut, a grisly detached ear and the resulting headwound) against breezy stoner comedy smacks of immaturity—and not cute, happy-go-lucky immaturity but puerile, grow-the-hell-up immaturity.

This was not the reaction I wanted to have to Pineapple. I kind of like the way the movie cheerfully declines to offer a public-service announcement against marijuana—frankly, it’s a welcome change of pace from the weirdly prim moralizing that crops up in movies that Apatow himself writes (he’s a producer here)—but the gory yet consequence-free violence of Pineapple rubs me the wrong way. I hate to be self-righteous, especially about such fluff as this, but if a wildly cavalier attitude toward violence is a prerequisite for being part of the target audience, I’m rather happy not to be part of it.

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