Saturday, August 9, 2008

I Fly Like Paper/Get High Like Planes

After being so sorely disappointed by Step Brothers, Pineapple Express feels like a breath of fresh air. Or, well, a breath of fresh something. The action-comedy (there's stoners in it, but the film's creative team has been loathe to call it a stoner comedy in interviews) is an incredibly enjoyable romp through urban Los Angeles sprawl that deftly bounces from action to comedy in a beat and then back again. David Gordon Green, the Terrence Malick influenced director of thoughtful indie character pieces, like the gorgeous George Washington and the charming All the Real Girls, steps before a much larger audience along with DP Tim Orr to make what is easily the best looking film of the Apatow cannon up to this point. The script by the duo responsible for Superbad, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, does an excellent job of channeling mid-80's Shane Black. The film echoes feelings and beats from the likes of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout to name but two. Also while it isn't as commenting on the genre as much as Hot Fuzz, this film most certainly owes a debt to the trail blazed by Edgar Wright and his mates.
The story resolves around Saul (Seth Rogen constantly showing his development as an actor, his freaking out is MARVELOUSLY funny) a process server who likes to get high and his dealer Saul (James Franco, looking like he's having the most fun in a film he's had in years). Saul is a sad, needy little Bubbe's boy living in a bizarre apartment and considers Dale his best friend. The feeling is not mutual. When Dale goes to serve the villainous Tom (Gary Cole, who also happens to be Saul's supplier) with a subpoena he accidentally witnesses a murder. In his panic he drops his roach and leaves the titular weed in a place that Ted can track both he and Saul. Now on the run the pot-addled Dale and Saul most pool their limited mental and physical resources to save their skins and get to the bottom of things. Along the way they encounter hitmen, the Asian mafia, an old folks home, a secret military lab, tiny corrupt Latina cops and all manner of craziness. By act two the duo becomes an unlikely trio as drug middle-man Red ("next big thing" Danny McBride) who takes no end of punishment and frequently betrays the boys, joins up.

The pot isn't the center of the story but rather the brewing bro-mance between Dale and Saul. Like all great action buddy films the story ought to be about the semi-platonic love of its two male leads. As Saul and Dale get beaten and bruised (virtually every character in the film gets punished BADLY) and go through the staple action moments; brawls, car chases, shoot-outs etc they form a compelling bond. Their long-time chemistry formed on the set of Freaks & Geeks is on display and gives the film a strong backing so it never quite loses itself in the mire of the increasingly wacky plot. The comedy flows abundantly and with great ease from these two. Quite often there is so much funny going on at once that the movie earns a second viewing just to catch all the throw-away lines you laughed over the first time. The film has been cleverly packed to the brim with comic wringers who bring all sorts of fun quirks to the proceedings. Rather than just having stock henchmen we get Craig Robinson (Daryl from The Office) and the ever versatile Kevin Corrigan. Ken Jeong and Bobby Lee show up as foul-mouthed Asian hit-men and then there are Ed Begley Jr and Nora Dunn as the parents of Dale's high school aged girlfriend. The film, which takes place in the bleak suburban quarters of LA (lots of back-streets of Van Nuys and Northridge, at least that's what it FEELS like), serves as the perfect shabby backdrop to this gang of reprobates and weirdos. Green captures the feelings of awkwardness and potential in a world where Seth Rogen can actually seem like a legitimate action lead. It's fun, exciting and knows the lay of the land. The movie even goes so far as to provide the post-film conversation courtesy of the leads. Here Green just lets the camera linger on his leads letting the audience in on this bruised, beaten and near dead gang and their silly, intimate conversation. I could've hung around for hours.

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