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'Pineapple Express'

America's violent haze produces a bad buzz.

By Dorothy Woodend 9 Aug 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about film for The Tyee every other week.

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Well lit: Seth Rogen and James Franco.

The last time I smoked pot, I was seven years old. I don't remember much. My mother said my aunt had tried to get all the kids stoned at an Easter egg hunt.

She maintains we took off all our clothes and tried to go swimming in the pond, even though it was April and there was still snow on the ground. I don't remember that part of it, actually I don't remember much at all. One of the blessings of the weed is relief from memories that might haunt or embarrass you.

You would have to smoke a great deal of the stuff to make Pineapple Express seem like a good movie, although from the assorted giggles at the Rio Theatre, the audience was ripped and receptive. I'm sure they had a good time, probably better than me. Vancouver's ubiquitous Watermelon Girl introduced the film with a fair amount of bong-flavoured humour. "You can be stoned in the theatre, you just can't get stoned in the theatre," said the Watermelon, and we commenced.

Pineapple Express, directed by David Gordon Green, stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as a fine pair of dopes. It's a weed-eaten boy's own adventure, that owes much to the exploits of previous stoners (Cheech and Chong, et al). This being a pot smoking movie, plot isn't really the point. In fact, it gets in the way a bit. But in the interests of clarity (someone has to keep a clear head) let's delineate.

Pity the 'protest servant'

Things kick off with one of the funniest scenes in the entire film.

In the 1940s, at a secret underground facility, the U.S. military is testing cannabis sativa on ordinary soldiers. When its effects are discovered, the stuff is deemed ILLEGAL in big red letters.

Flash forward to current day Los Angeles, where one Dale Denton (Rogen), a process server or a "protest servant" (depending how high you are), drives around in a his crappy car smoking up and issuing subpoenas to people who would rather not receive them. To reduce the pain and humiliation of his present position, he smokes a lot of weed, which he buys from his friendly neighbourhood drug dealer Saul (Franco). Saul has just a received a new shipment of primo stuff, the titular Express. "It smells like God's vagina," he says and he's eager to offer it to his new friend and client.

Time wafts by

In the tradition of pot comedies, there is a fair amount of time and energy devoted to sitting around, smoking up and having ridiculous conversations about very little. If you like that kind of stuff, you'll be giggling all over yourself, and to be fair, the throwaway bits of dialogue, offered as asides, are by far the funniest parts of the film, especially in the first hour, although you have to listen hard to hear.

Once the plot revs up, however, things get more tedious and oddly more conservative. Dale witnesses a murder, committed by the very person who supplies Saul with his inventory. In a moment of full on freak out hysteria, he leaves behind a telltale roach, and runs back to the safety of Saul's arms. The murderous drug kingpin, one Ted Jones, and his pint-sized cop partner (Rosie Perez) give chase. They send a pair of hit men to clean things up, but meanwhile the boys have fled for the woods, taking their Fruit Roll-Ups and their primo bud with them.

After a night au naturel of running around in circles, smashing their cell phones, or at least trying to tie them to animals, they meet up with Saul's middleman, a guy named Red (Danny McBride). Like the McLovin character in Rogen's previous film Superbad, Red basically steals the show through sheer weirdness alone. You could almost hear the stoners in the theatre trying hard to remember all his "Red-isms" for later "quote-age."

Unbeknownst to the boys, Red has already sold them down the river and he'll do it again in a heartbeat.

You can spend the last 20 minutes of the film smoking up in the bathroom and not miss very much. Things resolve with a whole lot of guns, explosions and a great many, unnecessarily brutal deaths.

Pineapple Express hails from the Judd Apatow stable, and it has his teeth marks all over it. In fact, the Apatow brand has almost become a bit predictable.

Get it on, boys

Films such as Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, also featured winsome boymen, a few nagging women, a meanness of spirit covered over with raunch and more than a few homoerotic moments. Quite a few homoerotic moments, actually. Why Saul and Dale don't simply get it over with and tongue each other good, I dunno. Perhaps all that smoke has robbed them of initiative.

Pot seems to be in the air at the moment and not just at the Rio. Pot emissary Watermelon Girl recently graced the cover of the Georgia Straight, and even Cheech and Chong are getting back together. The New Yorker's recent article on California's cannabis culture painted a picture of an entire community of potheads, living and growing in the margins of legality. Whether the author intended to make the people in his story into little more than hemp-flavoured cartoons is uncertain, but it's easy to poke fun at the potheads. They're funny right? Or least they were, once upon a time.

Which is perhaps why, while watching Pineapple Express, James Kunstler's recent post about movies in America kept floating back into my head. Writes Mr. Kunstler: "Goodness has lost its way in the dark night of the American psyche, as might be understandable considering the nation of louts, liars, grifters, bullies, meth freaks, harpies and tattooed creeps we have become.... Frankly, I don't want that version of America to survive -- the America of chain stores, and muscle cars, and grown men obsessed with video games, drugs, and pornography, and women decorated like cannibals, and the vast, crushing purposelessness of it all."

I like it when Mr. Kunstler runs away with himself, which he does fairly often, but there is a sharp edge of despair here, that all the ganga in the world can't obliterate. It's especially apparent in a film like Pineapple Express. What should or could have been a gentle pothead movie ends not with dudes sitting around shooting the shit, but with bloody death, bodies dismembered and a undercurrent of nastiness that leaves you with a very bad feeling, if not downright paranoid.

What happened to mellow old mary jane?

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