The marijuana comedy as a genre generally isn't one known for excellence. Getting laughs out of someone who's high isn't the most challenging task.
The genre was pioneered with 1978's "Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke." The defining characteristic of the genre is a focus on and celebration of marijuana. Generally there are at least two male characters who get high throughout the film as they undertake a quest of some kind.
The pure stoner film is fairly rare. The audience is just so small that often they're hard to get made. There are only a handful of true examples such as "Half Baked," "How High" and the "Harold and Kumar" films. Usually it's more common to blend the stoner film in with other genres to widen the potential audience to include non-potheads. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Dazed and Confused," commonly regarded as staples of the genre, are more teen sex and coming of age comedies - the most common genres to be mixed with the stoner film.
Given the stoner movie's need for crossbreeding with other genres it's almost shocking that a film like "Pineapple Express" hasn't already been made.
The whole action-comedy buddy movie has been a Hollywood staple for about 25 years now. You take two likable actors, throw in some jokes, a few action sequences, and a disposable plot and you've got a movie. That formula's been done to death.
With "Pineapple Express," this genre's been skillfully blended with the stoner film to create the first so-called "weed action movie."
Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) doesn't have very much excitement in his life. He's a process server, someone who delivers legal documents summoning people to court, and spends most of his time smoking marijuana and listening to talk radio. He's also a 25-year-old dating an 18-year-old high-schooler named Angie (Amber Heard.) After a not-so-busy day of sneaking up on people with summons he stops by his dealer, Saul Silver (James Franco,) to buy more weed. Saul, even more dazed and confused than Dale, offers him a potent, ultra-rare breed of cannabis known as Pineapple Express, of which he's the city's exclusive proprietor. An excited Dale happily buys the weed and leaves to serve his final summons of the day.
While waiting in his car outside of a fancy house Dale's buzz is killed when he sees local drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) murder one of their criminal rivals. A terrified Dale pitches his joint and struggles to flee the scene, repeatedly smashing the two cars between which he's parallel parked. His stoned driving draws the attention of the killers. The ultra-rare marijuana doesn't make it difficult to figure out who saw the killing. Quickly Jones launches a manhunt and sends out thugs to capture the two hapless potheads. Chaos ensues as Saul and Dale are pulled into a war between two rival gangs.
Our heroes are likable characters, and Saul, the more nonsensical of the two, manages to avoid falling into the trap of the annoying idiot pothead. They're not the strongest, most interesting protagonists of the last few years' Judd Apatow pictures, but they're heads above the caricatures to which audiences are accustomed.
Comedy-wise the film is effective. The chuckles are not quite as frequent or as intense as "Superbad" but there are plenty of clever lines and laugh-out-louds. The film even manages in one scene to deliver what male-centric comedies almost never accomplish: a two-straight-guys-appearing-to-act-gay joke that's actually funny.
Many of the film's supporting characters are particularly memorable. The duo seek the assistance of Red (Danny McBride,) the middle-man one level up the marijuana food chain from Saul. McBride's performance is one of the treats of the film and one can count on it resulting in more comedy roles in the coming years. Craig Robinson as the flamboyant thug Matheson is also unforgettable. Cleo King as a school police officer also makes a strong impression and it's a shame she doesn't make an appearance after her scene ends.
The film is also the mainstream and comedic debut of David Gordon Green, a noted independent filmmaker highly praised for such thoughtful dramatic features as "George Washington," "All the Real Girls," "Snow Angels," and "Undertow." Hopefully "Pineapple Express" will give him greater clout to get more projects made.
It's not quite as good as one would like, though. The character of Dale's teenage girlfriend is a bit underused and undeveloped. It might have been better to have just excised her completely if they weren't going to really make her presence central to the narrative. The film seems to just forget about her, never really resolving that thread of the plot. In fact the whole movie just kind of ends abruptly
It's a fun movie. Saul and Dale now join Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, Jay and Silent Bob, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, and The Dude and Walter in the pantheon of classic stoner duos. Is "Pineapple Express" really "the greatest stoner movie ever" as Rolling Stone proclaims? No.
One can debate what constitutes a "stoner movie" but I'd say that "The Big Lebowski" falls into whatever definition one might devise and there's no marijuana-centric film that comes anywhere near it. The Coens' masterpiece blends the weed comedy with film noir.
So which genre should get stoned next? How about the gangster film? If world-class directors like the Coens, Green, and Terry Gilliam can each do a stoner movie then why not Martin Scorsese?