Howdy Inter-Webbers. I’m Matt Cohen, and I dig pot comedies.
Without getting into too much personal information, I am kinda the target audience for these things. I grew up on a steady stream of Cheech and Chong, Dazed and Confused and Half Baked. I consider myself a fairly discerning judge on what makes a successful stoner comedy and, as of late, have been a bit disheartened at the industry’s seeming disinterest in the genre as a whole. Blame it on the conservative tide that sweeps the nation, blame it on fundamental ideals or hell, blame it on moviegoing tastes, but the last decade or so has been pretty light on good old fashioned pot comedies.
That is one of the reasons I was so excited for the release of Pineapple Express, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco - the film many (including myself) thought may be the return to the classic stoner comedies we all know and love. Unfortunately, though it’s funny, it is far from A) The new classic stoner movie, or B) that good a movie in general. Yes, there are intermittent laughs throughout, but the overall movie just comes off as kind of awkward and sloppy, like it’s seven different movies forced into one. James Franco’s pot dealer Saul, however, takes this movie from the realm of “skip it” to the side of giving it a try. You are not going to want your money back, but I certainly can’t see anyone claiming this as the funniest film of the summer. Pineapple Express may be too different for its own good, which coming from me is near shocking to hear. But before I go giving a recommendation, let’s get into some more specific thoughts, shall we kids?
And, as always, I’m lazy, you’re lazy… Bullet List time!
James Franco: The funniest and possibly most redeeming factor of the entire film. I’ve never seen Freaks and Geeks, so my only exposure to Franco here-to-fore has been as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man flicks, and while he hasn’t been horrible, his performance in those had not impressed me in the least. And then I met Saul. Franco’s character in Pineapple Express is easily one of the best on-screen stoners of all time and one of the most complete performances I’ve seen in a while. No, this isn’t high drama, but the amount of dedication and fine-tuned nuance to Saul in the movie is pretty damn astounding. Franco is gone the moment this film starts and Saul exists as a wholly new person. I caught no glimpses of Harry Osborne here, and though my lack of Franco- viewings may be coloring my judgement, Franco COMPLETELY descends into the character here. Saul, for all purposes, is a real person. A real funny one, at that. His reaction times, his facial quirks - this is kind of a tour-de force of a performance, if you ask me, and one that elevates a mildly funny film into something watchable, if only for the work that Franco turns in. People who have seen the film are saying it lacks a likable character, but c’mon… How could you not like a guy that quotes 227 ? And just so I don’t forget, Seth Rogen is Seth Rogen in this film - He’s fine, if not good. But he is definitely overshadowed by the performance of James Franco.
The Look: With all said and done, David Gordon Green (with help from DP Tim Orr) has delivered the best looking Apatow film to date. Pineapple Express is chock full of gorgeous wide shots, something you rarely if ever see in a mainstream comedy. The entire look has a slightly washed out/70’s feel to it, which is definitely abetted by the odd, if not vibrant, color palette of the film. There are a few shots in particular that really made me sit back and take notice (the weed sale/dance off is a beautiful freaking shot), zoning out on the comedy and into the visuals, something which doesn’t necessarily help the overall enjoyment of the film. In fact, many times the shot overshadows the context on the screen, but that is more a fault of the writers (Rogen and Evan Goldberg) than it is the filmmakers.
Danny McBride: Though I have basically been told I MUST be a fan of this man’s work, I am. I find him ridiculously funny. I really enjoyed Foot Fist Way, and there is more of the same quality laughs here in Pineapple Express. His character, Red, starts out so unlikable, and has such a turn of face, that by the last scene of the movie he was my favorite by far. There is such an innocence and simplicity to McBride’s performance, and it’s ’cause of that that Red, though unsavory in some aspects of his personality, is so damn appealing by the finale. The last scene of the film may be my favorite, and that’s because it’s really the first time McBride, Rogen, and Franco get to be flat out funny, with no pretenses of plot or deeper matter. And it’s in that scene that I think McBride certainly steals the conversation and almost the whole movie. It’s sad to say, but I kinda now wish the two leads of this film were Mcbride and Franco. I am a gigantic fan of Rogen, but in this film his Dale is just to boring and flat out dicky to be anyone I would root for or care about. Red, on the other hand, I would want to see in a spin off. McBride is definitely a comedian to look out for, and his work in Pineapple Express further cements that claim.
The Action: Scattershot. Look, I wasn’t expecting director David Gordon Green to shoot a fight scene like John Woo, but the camera placement and editing of the action pieces in Pineapple Express is so basic and barebones that I can’t even remember one that particularly stood out as “Fun”. The gunfights are extremely sloppy - and it may just be me, but actual sound effects on the guns sounded like air pistols. I was all for the concept of genre melding, but when you don’t treat the respective genres with the respect they deserve, you wind up with half a film that just doesn’t fit with the rest. Unfortunately, that is the case with Pineapple Express.
The Violence: If you were to look at my DVD collection, you might be afraid as to the makeup of my mind, but fear not - though I like really dark movies, I’m a fairly happy dude. That being said, I do like violence in movies. Gratuitous, even. And that is why I am so surprised at my utter dismissal of the violent aspects of Pineapple Express. Early viewers said that the “gore” took them out of the film and made them uncomfortable. I don’t feel the same way. Rather, the random violence in the movie frustrated me more then anything else. “Why?” is the question I found myself constantly asking. I like ultra-violent movies, WHEN THEY CALL FOR IT, but Pineapple Express did not need to go anywhere near the levels it did to shock and gross out the viewers. Partially removed, bloody ears do not belong in this movie. If the violence was justified, or even handled with some weight, it would have made a world of difference - rather, you have a character who gets shot seven times and doesn’t flinch. How are we supposed to feel when someone else gets shot? One person is bulletproof and the next dies without a fight? Half the violence is meant to be met with laughter, the other half shock? It doesn’t work. Comedy, though a lighter art form, still needs logic to make it work. And there is no logical reason for 90 percent of the violence in Pineapple Express. Titillation for the sake of titillation. Not cool.
The End of the Joint: Overall, it has its enjoyable moments, but it is far from the laugh fest it looked to be. There are some great one liners scattered throughout, but the stretches in between may make waiting for the good’uns a tiring task. Its major undoing are its various unfitting tones - the one thing that initially drew me to the film. What could have been unique and “hip” winds up boring and random. A definite DVD purchase, if only for repeat viewings of Franco’s performance, but other then that a pretty forgettable movie.
So, if Pineapple Express didn’t quite hold up, what is a great pot comedy you may ask? Well, funny you should ask… Take a gander below!
Top 4 Stoner Comedies (Would’ve been 5, but I like… forgot one?)
1. Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke: The first, the best, the king. There is a reason that Cheech and Chong are the two most famous stoners of all time, and this film is where most of the world first discovered them. One of the most memorable and quotable comedies of all time. Silly, nonsensical, and whacked out; The gold standard for everything a good pot comedy should be. The undisputed champ for now and eternity. Bow down at the altar of this movie (and leave a doobie before you go.
2. Half Baked: My generation’s Up In Smoke. I’ll be honest, I saw this movie years before I ever saw marijuana, and I loved it anyway. The rare stoner flick that transcends enough to crack up the general “Square” public. This flick is so ingrained in my mind, that when thinking of weed one of the first images to pop in my head has to be the smiling visages of Chappelle, Breur, and crew. Though some say it hasn’t aged so gracefully, I defy them to throw on the DVD and not laugh for 90 minutes straight. This is what every stoner flick should aspire to be. (None can or should dare try to replicate Cheech and Chong. It’s not an option)
3. How High: The “Urban” entry into our list. Method Man and Red Man both have proven themselves as great rappers, but I really think they shine in this, their feature film, and one of my all-time favorite stoner comedies. It’s so damn irreverent and weird, and yet light hearted at the same time. This flick is definitely the least like its brethren, but that works for its favor. I don’t think this movie gets the respect it deserves - and after what must be 100 viewings, I can tell you it certainly holds up. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance… I’m a big fan.
4. Harold and Kumar go to White Castle: The sneak attack. I remember about 3 minutes into this movie, thinking to myself; “Wait a minute… This is a pure pot comedy!”. Though it is not the most high brow of fare, Harold and Kumar is one of the more bizarre and ridiculous stoner comedies to come out in some time. And… It’s awesome. This, if any film in recent years, is the closest movies have come to the old days of just flat out “High-Jinx”. The cheetah, N-P-H, the weed-love scene - all go down in history in the top pot moments on film. From the opening line to the last scene, the closest we’ve had to a classic stoner flick in many years. The sequel, not so much… but that’s a whole other review.
Stoner-Friendly Runner Ups: Dazed and Confused, Mallrats, Grandma’s Boy, The Big Lebowski, Clueless, ANY ANIME EVER MADE.
Well, like, dudes.. Umm. That’s it for this week. Like, totally check back next for like my review or whatever on comi—comics… Wait.. Oh yeah, Comic-Con. It’ll be heavy. And, as always,
“Keep em’ bagged and boarded”
-Matt Cohen swears he is currently not researching the next great pot comedy. For real…
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