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Pineapple Express

The key to David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express is, I think, the final scene. Instead of being the last scene of the action, it feels like the first scene of a post-production commentary. The two heroes (Seth Rogan and James Franco) sit in a restaurant a downmarket Denny's, with plate-glass windows and banal landscaping across the table from an extraordinarily ambiguous character, Red (Danny R McBride), a middleman in the local drug trade. Perhaps Red himself is the key to this film. Perhaps it doesn't really matter who or what the key is, because Mr Green and his team have thrown away the lock.

Nothing happens in the final scene, and that's pretty remarkable, because Red should be dying if not dead. (He does seem to nod off his mortal coil at one point, but then he perks right up.) He has taken a number of bullets, several to his thorax, on at least two occasions. His cheerful diffidence about needing medical attention would contrast sharply with his lethal untrustworthiness in early scenes if Pineapple Express were not itself a totally stoned movie. How stoned? In the climax, an extensive underground marijuana plantation is incinerated, the murderous villains who are conducting a drug war upstairs go right on shooting at one another. Nobody slumps to the floor in a fit of giggles, suddenly struck by the silliness of the proceedings. How Mr Green let this joke get away is beyond me. Not that I mind his failure to take advantage of the opportunity!

Mr Rogen, who plays Dale Denton, Process Server, holds Pineapple Express together with his Everydork persona. The actor is unusually capable of imitating not only the tone of voice but the neurotic gravitas of Albert Brooks. Mr Brooks is usually in a state of vexation brought on either by the idiocy of others or by their failure to meet his occasionally Himalayan standards. Mr Rogen, in contrast, is vexed because he has usually done something extremely imprudent. Dale is a man of many passions, all of them familiar to aggrieved thirteen year-olds. When Dale is on screen which he almost always is the force of these passions (however immature the passions might be) holds our attention. Holds up our attention, rather. Mr Rogen could probably walk into a scene of any movie in the world and take it over completely: the movie would suddenly be about him.

As a result, it's difficult to hold onto one's sense that a lot of what happens in Pineapple Express serves little or no dramatic purpose. There's a funny scene with Dale's girlfriend (Amber Heard) and her parents (Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr), but it not only goes nowhere but, again, fails to take advantage of opportunities for comic mayhem. We don't sit there are think, "wow, another missed opportunity for comic mayhem," because Pineapple Express is already pulling into the next station. But when the movie is over, and someone says, "How was it," you'll be scratching your head. How could you sit through such a terrible movie without being aware of it at the time?

The answer is that Pineapple Express is not a terrible movie. It is just one of those movies that cannot be thought about. Sometimes, such films achieve cult status, and everyone laughs knowingly at the mention of certain iconic scenes (Mr Franco driving a stolen patrol car with his right foot thrust through the windshield). Cult status absolves movies of the need to make sense; it celebrates their failure to do so. I won't be surprised if Pineapple Express fails to achieve cult status, but you never know.

James Franco, as a pickled small-time drug dealer, is endearingly sweet. Watching him explain the impact of a cruciform joint to Mr Rogen will be another iconic scene in the event that Pineapple Express isn't totally forgotten by the end of next week. Acting with cutout ferocity, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez play the drug kingpin and corrupt policewoman who set out to liquidate Dale after he sees them rub out a hit man from the rival "Asian" gang (headed by Dana Lee); Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson, as their rather ineffective muscle, are in contrast all too personable; Mr Robinson's Matheson is even sympathetic.

Come to think of it, there is an opportunity for comic mayhem that Mr Green ought to be spanked for missing. Having established Cleo Lane as a woman of conviction who makes a dragon of a police officer (or police liaison officer), capable of blowing from hostile to benign in the blink of an eyelid, he really ought to have done a good deal more with her. (August 2008)

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