Review: Pineapple Express

David Gordon Green is a fine director capable of extracting inconceivable moments of nuanced human behavior out of his motion pictures. He's best with characters that hold dark secrets near their aching heart, habitually fascinated with the limits of reaction and temperament. I write the above with some confidence, since it's painfully clear Green has no business directing comedies.

A process server with a formidable appetite for marijuana, Dale Denton (Seth Rogan) loves his job, his high school girlfriend (Amber Heard), and his pot dealer, Saul (James Franco). After picking up some of Saul's finest product, the infamous Pineapple Express, Dale heads off to his last legal target of the day, arriving only to accidentally witness a mob hit. Fearing the discarded roach will be traced back to his dealer, Dale and Saul hit the road, trying to evade the murderous wrath of a criminal kingpin (Gary Cole), his pocket policewoman (Rosie Perez), and two lackeys ordered to carry out the hits (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson).

"Pineapple Express" (IMDb listing) is frequently giggle-worthy and occasionally hilarious, but almost by accident. Green ("All the Real Girls," "Snow Angels") seems ready for warfare, bringing all his verve and visual ideas to best execute this quasi-80's action film/stoner comedy. However, the screenplay by Rogan, Evan Goldberg, and Judd Apatow is a deeply entrenched affair, positioned as a net below the actors to catch their frequent improvisational bon mots, and that specific prostration of comedy eludes Green's sweaty grasp.

Perhaps last year's triumph "Superbad" proved that the Apatow brand of yuks requires coverage from Apatow-approved talent. Green is an outsider and his direction is a constant reminder of ill rhythm; his editing makes a point to blow surefire sight gags by cutting around the room, knocking down the fine work from Rogan and Franco. Green also doesn't know when to halt the famed improvisation, allowing scenes to sputter into dust or suffocate from obscure in-jokes between the actors. The whole vibe of "Pineapple" feels askew, as though a more controlled director could've nailed down a perfect momentum that builds toward comedic heights. Under Green, the film lurches around, hoping rudimentary pot jokes can cover the gaps in genuine invention left behind by his inexperience with slapstick timing.

If I've made "Pineapple" sound like a drag, please forgive me. The film is actually quite a barnstormer, fearlessly exploring the boundaries of comedic violence as Dale and Saul leave a trail of dead bodies and mauled limbs behind them as they dash for safety. The whole production is ruled by the wink, missing a prime chance to unnerve the audience with a "Beverly Hills Cop" brew of big laughs and bigger body trauma, but the taffy air of the film is nice in small doses. Rogan and Franco certainly know how to have some fun, and their camaraderie is an element of the film Green can't ruin with his lead foot. Adding nostalgic bursts of brutality and synth-powered scoring by Graeme Revell only sweetens the experience.

Opening with a flashback to the war-time day pot was outlawed and climaxing with a Donneresque sock-em conclusion, complete with massive gunfire, Japanese hitmen, and Daewoo finishing moves, "Pineapple Express" has just enough gas in the tank to arrive at its final destination with a sufficient level of fogged goodwill, but there's a strange absence of bellylaughs that typically stands more proudly in an Apatow production. It's nice and all to rely on stoner kitsch, but this farce needed more thoughtful consideration, not just chaos and repetitive testicle trauma.

Filmfodder Grade: B-