Fruit Machine Gun

There is a lot to like in Pineapple Express, a cross between Cheech & Chong and Lethal Weapon which reunites Freaks & Geeks stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a pair of stoned idiots getting caught up in a drug war.

The curly-headed Rogen plays Dale, a habitual pot smoker, who buys his marijuana from Franco’s similarly bewildered Saul. While Saul rarely leaves his gadget-scattered apartment, Dale’s low-pressure job as a legal clerk, delivering writs to defendants, gives him plenty of time to spark up in his car between jobs. One night, half-baked, he witnesses druglord Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and his crooked-cop accomplice (Rosie Perez) murder an Asian gangster.

As it happens, the weed Dale was smoking is a rare strain known as Pineapple Express imported by Jones, who traces it back to his supplier Red (a scene-stealing Danny McBride), and then onto the boys. As Dale and Saul run for their lives, they soon discover that they’re not living out some pot-induced paranoid dream; the bad guy’s henchmen (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson) really are trying to kill them.

What follows is a suitably incoherent but brilliantly observed and affectionate buddy comedy that offers plenty of laughs in the first section, but abruptly switches genre half way through to turn into a surprisingly visceral action movie which revels in showing our previously charming and befuddled heroes pick up machine guns and kill dozens of people. It’s played as a spoof, but still, it’s a jolting transition that considerably lessens the film’s giggling appeal, trailing Hot Fuzz – for instance - in wanting to be two or three movies at once and ending up split down the middle.

Nevertheless, Pineapple Express has all the elements you expect by now from Rogen: barrel-chested male bonding, adolescent sexual fantasies, endless movie references and quotable foul-mouthed dialogue all suffused in the bittersweet whiff of marijuana. Fittingly his script, the second collaboration with Evan Goldberg following last year’s Superbad, rambles, becoming incoherent and distracted, but the life-affirming central story of male friendship is closely contained.

What really distinguishes this film from the stampede of Judd Apatow productions is the poetic touch of director David Gordon Green, an indie darling for his repertoire of offbeat, tender films like George Washington and All The Real Girls. Not the obvious pick for the material, Green does bring a fresh look to the typically flat, televisual scheme of these production-line comedies, but overplays his hand markedly in the big action finale, galloping through what is expected without bringing anything particularly new.

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