Add about seven years to the ages of the kids in Superbad, toss in bullets, bongs and assassination squads, and you get some idea of the hot box of crazy that is Pineapple Express, a buddy movie stoned on its own shitfaced silliness. You’ll go limp from laughing as process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) buys the wacky weed of the title from pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco). “Smell it, smellll it,” raves Saul, his eyes glazed with mellow joy. “It’s like God’s vagina.” The plot kicks in when Dale eyeballs drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole, slime personified) and crooked cop Carol (Rosie Perez, totally butch) executing an Asian rival. Dale runs like hell, dropping a roach that Ted immediately IDs as pineapple express. That marks Dale for death, also Saul and his middleman Red, played by inspired lunatic Danny McBride. For you to grasp the true essence of Pineapple Express, let me paraphrase the immortal gibberish that issues from the mouth of Franco, who delivers a sidesplitting tour de force as the sweetly profane Saul: This is like if Superbad met Midnight Run and they had a baby and then meanwhile that freaky Quentin Tarantino talk from Pulp Fiction and True Romance met that freaky Judd Apatow TV stuff from Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and they had a baby, and by some miracle those babies met — and fucked — this would be the funny shit that they birthed.
Exactly, kind of. The script by Rogen and his Superbad writing partner, Evan Goldberg, is a trippy wonder, if you don’t get too attached to logic. Loaded with turbocharged action and nonstop giggles, Pineapple Express is what Saul might call “the apex of the vortex” of comedy joint engineering. It’s up there with The Big Lebowski, Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, only a lot gorier. Bound to flabbergast anyone who just says no — expect howls of protest over the scene where Saul and Dale sell pot in a schoolyard — the movie has been rated R for “pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence.” Got that, kids? You can’t see it till you grow up. As Red comments philosophically while cocking his gun for a shootout, “Thug life.”
About that gun. Blood spurts as our three losers get in way over their toasted heads. Producer Apatow, a one-man laugh industry from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, had the idea for a shoot-’em-up farce about stoners. Rogen and Goldberg complied with a hoot of a script. You might have expected Franco, best known as handsome Harry in the Spider-Man trilogy, to play Dale, the 25-year-old who’s dating a schoolgirl (Amber Heard). But nooo. Franco has a ball wearing the shaggy wig and baggy pants of the dealer. And Rogen, the Knocked Up shlub who co-starred with Franco on Apatow’s 1999 NBC series Freaks and Geeks, totally rocks it as the world’s unlikeliest action hero. Dale serves subpoenas while wearing disguises and flees from the ire and the rifle of his teen queen’s daddy (Ed Begley Jr. freaking out and a sight to see). Rogen and Franco are comedy dynamite, but they also make you believe there’s a real bond between these lost boys. And don’t forget Red. I’m mclovin’ McBride. Only about a dozen of us believers saw him in The Foot Fist Way, which opened for five minutes in May, but he spins magic as the third member of these new-century doobie brothers.
The surprises don’t stop there. Think of the last person you’d pick to direct this nonsense. It would have to be Texas-bred David Gordon Green, 33, acclaimed for microbudgeted indie films (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels) that probe the fragility of human relationships. Pineapple Express is about as frail as an anvil, especially when Saul steals a police car, Dale picks up a machine gun and Red takes two in the gut. For all the headbanging, Green and his actors — a shout-out to Kevin Corrigan and The Office‘s Craig Robinson as Ted’s henchmen — make their characters count for something. The movie, shot beyond the call of kickass duty by Green’s gifted cinematographer, Tim Orr, is rich in demented details, from the black-and-white prologue to the knockout fight in Red’s house (watch that sink! damn that toilet seat!) and the final free-for-all at the cannabis plant. But this movie also has a heart as big as Saul’s stash. Near the end, the three friends gather at a diner to lick their wounds and go emo on each other. It’s hardcore hilarious. Pineapple Express slaps a big, fat, goofy smile on your face that lasts for days. I already have the munchies for more. Rogen, Franco and McBride are on the march into stoner legend.