Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The stoner comedy makes a comeback

"Pineapple Express" almost makes one nostalgic for a time when many lived their lives through a thick haze of marijuana smoke. Of course, I don't know about this from personal experience, but I've read widely and have seen "Up In Smoke," the granddaddy of all stoner movies. I guess it's appropriate that "Pineapple Express," which marks a major departure for indie darling David Gordon Green ("George Washington," "All the Real Girls" and "Snow Angels"), arrives in theaters shortly after the announcement that Cheech & Chong again will be working together. Are we talking a pot resurgence here? Could this be the final the legacy of the Bush years?

Even though 'Pineapple Express" ultimately blames pot-smoking for the life-threatening predicaments in which its characters find themselves, it spends enough time in a rag-tag, pot-addled daze to earn a place in a growing pantheon of movies that take pride in their dishevelment. The movie draws its title from a rare form of marijuana that sets the plot in motion.

This time, Green -- whose hallmarks have been slow and sensitive movies with a feeling for place -- works with producer Judd Apatow, the comic hotshot whose movies ("Superbad" and "Knocked Up") have been known for gross-outs and bawdy humor. The movie also stars Apatow regular Seth Rogen, who plays a process server who spends most of his day stoned. Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who wrote the "Superbad" screenplay, turn out a script that teams Rogen with James Franco, as a pot dealer whose personality seems to have been molded by repeated viewings of "Dumb and Dumber."

Don't expect a tidy package. "Pineapple Express'' is part doper comedy and part action-film spoof. Thanks to a convoluted plot, Rogen and Franco spend most of the movie running for their lives. It seems they've gotten crosswise with a major dope dealer (Gary Cole) who's in cahoots with dirty cops.

Rogen's character has a girlfriend named Angie (Amber Heard), and jokes are made about the fact that she's still in high school. It should come as no surprise that Angie's parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn) are appalled by Rogen's character, who shows up at their home during his flight.

Rogen is Albert Brooks without the self-doubt, an actor whose comedy involves a tacit acknowledgement to the audience that they're watching a guy who's not afraid to let his sweat-stained personality show. Franco, who hasn't done much comedy, steals the show as a dopey dope dealer whose pants look like a psychedelic experience and whose intellect is...well....less than keen.

You'll find some graphic images here, and not every comic bit is fall-down funny, but the movie whips up enough laughs to keep it percolating, and Green holds it together even as its loosey-goosey tendencies threaten to blow it apart.

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