Aptow and Rogen blend buddy movie, stoner film

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Comedian/writer Seth Rogen and producer/writer Judd Aptow have been brewing up comedy ever since Knocked Up knocked back big box office numbers last year. The pair teams up again, along with James Franco, on a comedy that parodies both ’70s stoner movies and ’80s buddy action movies, Pineapple Express.

Seth Rogen stars as Dale Denton, a perpetually adolescent Jewish process server whose day revolves around listening to talk radio and smoking marijuana. Denton is a grown man yet is dating a high school girl (Amber Heard), apparently because grown women won’t give the slovenly Denton a second look. Dale is not interested in socializing with the other people he encounters in his economically marginal daily life, including his longhaired surfer dude pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco). Saul, on the other hand, thinks they are great friends, babbling on about his loopy ideas and talking affectionately of his bubbe, the grandmother his pot selling supports in a comfortable retirement home. Meanwhile, Dale just wants to buy his pot and leave but politely lingers, until Saul enthusiastically offers him a sample of his newest pot product, the powerful Pineapple Express.

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In the course of stalking a victim, processor server Denton ends up witnessing a murder and both Denton and Silver end up on the run from drug-dealing gangsters and crooked cops, along with fellow drug dealer Red (Danny McBride).

The premise sounds a bit like Some Like It Hot, but Rogen and Franco don’t don dresses and hide out with an all-girl band. The comedy is really a blend of ’70s Cheech and Chong stoner comedy and parody of the pervasive buddy-picture action films of the ’80s like Lethal Weapon, where a by-the-book cop and a loose-cannon type end up on the run, usually from drug dealers, in a mix of comedy and action.

Producer Judd Aptow and comedian Seth Rogen have frequently sprinkled their comic collaborations with references to their shared Jewish heritage. Rogen’s parents met on a kibbutz in Israel, and Rogen attended a Talmud Torah school, although Rogen was born and raised in Canada. Aptow also grew up Jewish, on Long Island in New York, and was a co-writer on Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, his comedy about an Israeli Mossad agent turned hairdresser. Rogen, who is also a writer and a producer, and Aptow collaborated with Franco previously on the TV show Freaks and Geeks.

Although he was the comic star of Knocked Up, Rogen is almost the straight man to Franco’s lovably strange stoner character. Franco steals nearly every scene and practically the whole movie. Franco’s comic performance may be a breakout role for him, where his stoner ideas, forgiving nature and affection for his bubbe combine to make his oddball but good-hearted character both funny and likeable.

Pineapple Express is packed with hilarious little send ups of standard action film bits, including a bizarre stunt fight between Franco and Rosario Dawson as a crooked cop. The film opens with a brilliant flashback bit, with Rainn Wilson in a black-and-white Reefer Madness-style scene. The movie also parodies stereotypical action film plotting about warring drug gangs, with ruthless rival Asian drug lords randomly showing up to throw in some ninja action. It also fearlessly and hilariously spoofs formulaic buddy picture scenes, including that standard of buddy pictures, the weepy, “I-love-you-man” dramatic scene. Some of the comedy is brilliant, while some edges towards queasy but, thankfully, it largely avoids the perpetual toilet humor theme that has so dominated comedies in recent years.

The comedy in Pineapple Express often walks the edge of discomfort, and you may find yourself laughing without knowing why, but the result is far funnier than recent Aptow films like Drillbit Taylor. It is a worthy return to comic style for Aptow and Rogen, but might be a star-maker for James Franco.