Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Movies: Pineapple Express

Farce is killing comedy.

Don't get me wrong. I like good old fashioned over-the-top hysterical self-referentiality, and I do think it's funny, but between the self-centered stylings of Will Ferrell and the mockumental antics of Judd Apatow's posse (Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Steve Carell, Jonah Hill, etc.) wit has gone by the wayside in favor of childish nonsense: slapstick and fart gags and gay gags and all other varietals of fat man in tighty-whitey underpants humor. And now, pot humor.

I readily admit to having an odd fascination with the stoner movie (odd because I have never touched the stuff myself). Certain favorites include the more explicit Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle and the less explicit Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures, the philosophical Dude Where's My Car?, along with the classics Friday and Dazed and Confused (I was less impressed with Half-Baked, although it has a pretty good soundtrack). And while would be absurd to say that Harold and Dude are less farcical than Pineapple Express, their relationship to farce is different. Whereas the first two are meritorious until interrupted by certain farcical moments (in Dude, it's the "hot alien chicks;" in Harold, it's the "battle shits"), Pineapple Express, like all those Will Ferrell-as-a-basketball-player, Will Ferrell-as-an-Anchorman, Will Ferrell-as-an-ice-skater, Will Ferrell-as-a-Step Brother, Will Ferrell-as-a-Nascar-driver, Steve Carell-as-a-40 Year Old Virgin, etc. movies, is completely rooted in farce, is nothing but farce, and contains basically zero minutes of genuine human behavior.

That said, there are certain stunning pot-humor moments, like when Seth Rogen puts his face into a bag of the infamous pineapple express marijuana and says it smells "like God's vagina," or like when he and James Franco together simultaneously light the three ends of a joint fashioned into a cross shape, which supposedly delivers a stronger hit. Musical details are also on-point; at one moment, Rogen stops his car at a red light, listening to Electric Avenue, and a car pulls up next to him with two Hispanic stoners also jamming to the same song. But every actor/actress besides Franco and Rogen are infuriatingly plastic, from Rogen's high school girlfriend (the typical, flat Apatow blonde) to the villainous drug lord out to kill them to the female cop (a disappointing Rosie Perez) who's in cahoots with him.

The movie actually starts out strong; Rogen and Franco pal around, stoned, in Franco's apartment (where he has two televisions going at once, one of which is sitting up on a third). But it gets progressively worse, devolving deeper and deeper into farce and culminating in a half hour long fight scene in the drug lord's hideout. The violence is tremendous but rubbery, like a bad Cops reenactment. That, I imagine, is why it makes the audience laugh, but for some reason, I've never found that sort of thing funny (never could I stand, for example, Warner Brothers cartoons, as a child or an adult, and the characters here take their beatings with disturbingly similar resilience).

The last few minutes of the movie take place in a diner, where over a table full of greasy breakfast food, the three guys (Rogen, Franco, and their sidekick, played by a very obnoxious Danny McBride) recount their adventure ("Remember when you did this and that?! That was awesome, man!"—"And how about x, y, and z?! Yeah, crazy!") in the way that writer Rogen knows his audience will go out and do. Here is a good example of hyper-self-consciousness being used for cleverness rather than stupidity. Ultimately, though, it's not enough to redeem the movie.

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