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The buzzkill that is the Pineapple Express

Apatow and Co.'s latest is more schwag than kind

I'm the last guy I expected to be down on the new stoner-buddy-action comedy, Pineapple Express. After all, I've thus far been wowed by (almost) all things producer Judd Apatow touches, from the Larry Sanders Show to Freaks and Geeks to the 40 Year Old Virgin-Knocked-Up-Superbad trifecta. And this year's best comedy, by far, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I harbor no ill-will toward stoner-slackers—Jeffs Lebowski and Spicoli rank among my favorite all time film characters. So it's with a harsh cough and a logy head that I have to admit—Pineapple Express just didn't make me laugh very much.

I checked out a weekend matinee at the Rheem Theater the other day, entering this neighborhood gem of a cinema with high hopes and good vibes. The film's meandering first hour is entirely watchable, with Dale Denton ( Apatow regular Seth Rogan) smoking j's and serving subpoenas and bantering with pot dealer Saul (James Franco), who sells him a quarter ounce of a variation of the killer kindbud that Kevin Spacey was smoking in his American Beauty daze. The bud proves to be a literal killer when Rogan witnesses a murder at a drug dealer's house, and the dealer witnesses Denton fleeing the scene. The amiable stoner feel of the film's first have comes no where near the peaks of Dazed and Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or The Big Lebowski—but doesn't sink to the drivel of most of Harold and Kumar's and Cheech and Chong's adventures. It's in the film's second act that I found Pineapple Express falling apart. The movie takes a turn toward the insanely violent, inherently stupid action picts of the late 1980s—think Tango and Cash or the ad nauseum chapters of the Lethal Weapon series, with the severed body parts of Reservoir Dogs thrown in for chuckles. As the row of teenagers behind me howled at the sight of a corpse's foot being blown off by shotgun, I cringed, and grudgingly accepted my now inevitable reality as a middle aged man: that graphic comic violence can be mean-spirited and, more imporant, totally unncessary—whether its 1991's The Last Boy Scout, 1996's the Long Kiss Goodnight, or 2008's Pineapple Express.

That said, Pineapple Express isn't without many minor merits. The film's highlights include inspired performances by James Franco as Saul, the nicest guy you'll ever buy your chronic from, and newcomer Danny McBride (also awesome in the much funnier The Foot Fist Way). Indie director David Gordon Green brings a nice visual texture to the proceedings and there's an awesome reference to Return of the Jedi's Rancor.