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'Pineapple Express' tastes familiar
The formula is pretty familiar by now in these Judd Apatow-produced comedies. A couple of buddies get into trouble, and as they try to bumble their way out of it, their friendship only grows stronger.
Some clever linguistics guru somewhere even came up with a word for this pop-culture phenomenon: the "Bromance."
"Pineapple Express" tries to breathe some fresh life into this comic genre by turning it into a serious action movie. But because it tries to be both, it doesn't completely work on either level.
Seth Rogen and James Franco have great chemistry, though, as our half-baked heroes -- not surprising, since they're both longtime friends of Apatow who co-starred on his TV series "Freaks and Geeks." Rogen also co-wrote the screenplay with his lifelong friend, Evan Goldberg, with whom he scripted "Superbad," which was inspired by their geeky adolescence. (Apatow shares a story-by credit with them. He is everywhere, you know.)
This time, Rogen plays a vaguely more functional version of his "Knocked Up" slacker. His Dale Denton is a process server -- he has to wear a tie, this must mean he's a grown-up now -- but he's still dating a high-school hottie (Amber Heard) and his main priority is making frequent trips to his pot dealer.
That would be Franco's character, the affable space cadet Saul Silver. It's a wildly different role for the actor, best known as the pretty-boy bad guy in the "Spider-Man" movies and for his star-making, TV-movie turn as James Dean. Here, he's just goofy and easygoing, prone to non sequiturs but sweet and instantly likable.
And he takes pride in his work. Saul sells an inordinately strong strain of weed known as Pineapple Express, one that's so famously rare, he says smoking it is "like killing a unicorn." But because it's so identifiable, it gets him and Dale tangled up with a dirty cop (Rosie Perez) and a homicidal drug lord (Gary Cole). (The details aren't all that important. Suffice it to say that a substance known for inducing laziness sets the film's action into high gear.)
"Pineapple Express" is at its best when it's about these two guys getting to know each other by talking about absolutely nothing. In a twist on the traditional odd-couple roles, the heavy guy is the uptight one and the lanky one is more laid-back; Dale and Saul certainly offer an intriguing contrast to brothers-in-bongs Harold and Kumar or Cheech and Chong.
But then "Express" goes off the rails and turns into a very generic action picture, full of fist-fights and shootouts and explosions, in what seems like an effort to be as broadly commercial as possible. There's a slightly slapsticky element to all this, but even that doesn't make such mundane material any more compelling.
This is even more of a headscratcher when you consider that the director is David Gordon Green, who's made a career out of quiet indie dramas like "George Washington" and "All the Real Girls." Green is, however, a longtime friend and film-school classmate of Danny McBride, star of the kung-fu comedy "The Foot Fist Way" who has a supporting role here as Saul's supplier. Green naturally has a sure hand when it comes to the dialogue and the smaller moments -- it's his big, violent set pieces that lack any discernible pizazz.
Still, maybe all of this is more fun if you're under the influence of the same substance our stoner heroes are. Not that we're condoning that kind of activity, mind you.
"Pineapple Express," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. Running time: 108 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.