Critics of Pineapple Express will no doubt call the film languid, overlong, self-indulgent. But its supporters will know better: the movie is stoned. Or, at the very least, it plays like it’s stoned. If you’re on the fence about seeing Pineapple Express — a “stoner comedy” about a guy who witnesses a murder and goes on the lam with his drug dealer — that may tell you a lot of what you need to know.
I’m not a smoker myself, but I’ve been around plenty, and the experience of watching Pineapple Express is akin to that of watching a bunch of stoners for two hours. Now, that is partly because we actually are watching a bunch of stoners for two hours: the characters here rarely have a clear-headed moment. But it also manifests itself in the film’s rhythms, its pacing, its comic timing. Scenes go on longer than any sober person could possibly think was appropriate. Long conversations go around in circles. The movie insists, with a disarming earnestness, that unremarkable bits of physical slapstick are the funniest thing on the planet. It’s a “stoner comedy” in every sense of the word, more committed to that genre than any movie I’ve ever seen.
Its pedigree is impeccable. Steered by comedy producer extraordinaire Judd Apatow, written by Superbad‘s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and directed by America’s great white indie hope David Gordon Green, Pineapple Express obviously has talent and brains behind it, and often it shows. There are a lot of laughs, thanks to the talent and chemistry of co-stars Rogen and James Franco, the screenplay’s boundless exuberance, and the occasional bit of delirious randomness (there’s a reaction shot of Rogen early in the film that makes me giggle every time I think about it). The stoned quality I mentioned above gives the movie a loose, unpredictable feel: it could go in any damn direction it pleases, and often does.
At the same time, when I said that watching Pineapple Express was akin to watching a bunch of stoners for two hours, I meant that it was akin to watching a bunch of stoners for two hours. Some sequences are so attenuated that they become funny for that reason alone, but it adds up, and at a certain point you just want to hurry the film along. There’s a scene toward the end, where the characters are gathered at a diner, giddily recapping the events of the previous evening, and it just goes on and on and on, and at that point I became convinced that Pineapple Express was, simply, never going to end. It did, eventually, but I got the feeling that it was only because of practical constraints. They could have gone on talking forever.
I’ve long been complaining — usually with good humor — that the folks in Apatow production mill lack the discipline to edit their films down to something genuinely inspired. Knocked Up and Superbad are funny at two hours, but may have been masterpieces at 95 minutes. In this respect, Pineapple Express is both better and worse: on one hand, there’s no masterpiece inside it at all, which is a drag; on the other, there’s actually a plausible thematic justification for its expansiveness.
So, I don’t know. This is a mightily strange movie, at times very funny; I can certainly recommend it to those who are curious about it. Those who can’t stand being around stoners may like it less. I could swear I smelled like pot when I left the theater. Could have been my fellow theatergoers. Could have been the movie.