07 August 2008

At the movies: Pineapple Express

Director David Gordon Green has been making great films since his 2000 debut George Washington, and he’s been crafting a thoughtful and distinctive career making smaller, contemplative films about American lives that we don’t often see. So it’s intriguing to see what happens when he, having already hewn out a distinctive approach to character and visual mood, joins forces with the armies of current comedy godhead Judd Apatow. The end result is a scruffy and beautiful stoner amble through genres past, capable of combining bleary-eyed 70s guffaws with car-chasing, property-exploding 80s-styled thrills.

It’s a remarkable achievement as a film, if for nothing else than letting James Franco be funny again. Everything since Freaks and Geeks has found our man James stuck in brooding mode (one of the pleasures of the overly-maligned Spiderman 3 being Franco’s turn during Harry Osborne’s goofy amnesiac scenes), so to find him let loose with comedic gold like drug dealer/future civil engineer Saul Silver is pure pleasure. Star Seth Rogen gets to work his flusterable everydude thing, and that’s all well and good, but the film belongs to Franco and costar Danny McBride. As Red, a middleman who ties Saul to shot caller/murderer Ted Jones (Gary Cole, looking like he’s ready to file some TPS reports on the world’s ass), McBride hearkens back to his bigscreen debut (as Bust-Ass in Green’s 2001 masterpiece All The Real Girls) and banishes all memory of his near-unwatchable ‘comedy’ The Foot Fist Way from earlier this summer.

Pineapple Express is literally the specific strain of marijuana that ties process server Dale Denton (Rogen) to the scene of a murder. The plot, courtesy of Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg (who wrote last year’s Superbad) is a meandering thing that spans seventy or so years, a lazy-assed conspiracy, and a small-scale drug war, but one that nevertheless ranks with 2003’s Shaun of the Dead in its insights into the vicissitudes of male friendships. The ace in the hole with this film, though, is the visual grace that Green and his ace cinematographer Tim Orr bring to the proceedings- this is easily the best-looking film that has ever emerged from Apatow Productions. Here’s to more fruitful collaborations along this line, and much respect to all involved parties for maintaining their respective integrities.

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