Dale (Seth Rogen) is a twenty-something subpoena server who spends his time between work assignments arguing with his barely 18 year old girl friend Angie (Amber Heard) and getting high. After witnessing a gangster (Gary Cole) and a cop (Rosie Perez), Dale goes on the run with his dealer Saul (James Franco). Dodging two rival gangs out to get them and the cops is probably tough at the best of times, but when you are totally baked, it leads to even more complications.
An odd fusion of stoner comedy and buddy-action film, Pineapple Express teeters back and forth between its two genres, never quite finding a solid middle ground. That’s not to say that the film is not entertaining. There are some good laughs to be found in the duo’s stoned bumbling antics and a sequence in which they ultimately steal a police squad car mixes action and laughs fairly well. However, as the film moves more towards its climax, it drifts more towards the action genre. The big confrontation between Dale and Saul and the drug dealers does work as an action set piece, but there’s no real comedy to be found. One keeps hoping for a bit of slapstick to liven things up.
Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg wowed audiences last year with Superbad, a raunchy teen comedy with a surprisingly sentimental emotional core. Here, however, the duo has a bit of a sophomore stumble. The characters of Dale and Saul are not as well defined as even some of the supporting characters in Superbad were.
Like its unambitious leads, the movie never seems to work up the energy to pay off some things that it spends time setting up. Dale is shown having a variety of costumes for use in his day job, but it is a skill that never comes into play when he and Saul are trying to make their escape. Similarly, there is no real strong resolution to the arc between Dale and his girlfriend Angie.
What do shine are the performances, the cast making the best they can out of their weakly defined roles. Rogen is his usually goofy, charming self. There are hints of a relationship between Cole and Perez’s characters, and it is a shame we don’t see more of it. A hero is often only as good as the villains opposite him and unfortunately, Cole and Perez’s characters don’t have much meat to them at all.
If there’s any revelation to be found in the film, it is in the work of James Franco. Having spent a majority of his career in brooding heartthrob roles, Franco cuts loose and seems to be enjoying himself as the hippy-dippy pot seller who has sampled too much of his own wares. Many of the key comedic moments are only fully realized because of him, and there are times when he threatens to steal the movie right out from under the far greater comedically experienced Rogen.
Ultimately, though, once you come down from the high of the film, you may yourself with a craving for something with a little more cinematic substance.