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Pineapple Express (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 111 minutes.

America’s laws relating to marijuana are, to give them the best of it, idiotic. The people of California passed a medical marijuana initiative that allowed people who really needed it to improve the quality of their lives during serious illness to use it. Yesterday (August 5) the federal government convicted Charles Lynch, who ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, of five counts of violating federal drug laws. Lynch faces a five year minimum sentence. His only action was to try to help people who are suffering, as allowed by a California law that was passed by the voters. This is an outrage. He was represented to be a vicious drug dealer by federal prosecutors David Kowal and Rasha Gerges. If you are as outraged about this as I, here’s Kowal’s email address, david.kowal@usdoj.gov. I’m not sure, but I imagine that the email address for Gerges would be rasha.gerges@usdoj.gov. If you find this as upsetting as I, feel free to contact them and let them know.

I don’t understand why you can get a prescription for Demerol, for example, which is far more addictive, but you can’t get a prescription for marijuana. I also don’t understand why marijuana is illegal, but alcohol isn’t. Alcohol is far more detrimental to health than marijuana. For the record, I do not use marijuana, and never have. So my opinion on this movie has nothing to do with its positive treatment of marijuana usage. I think it should be legal.

Producer Judd Apatow has a few “concepts” for comedy. This one is called a “stoner action comedy,” about, not surprisingly, people being stoned. Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and Saul Silver (James Franco) are constantly stoned throughout the film. That might have been funny in the ‘60s, but now it’s so five minutes ago. Even George Carlin got rid of his “hippy dippy” sportscaster around the mid-60s.

My opinion of the film is based on Apatow’s all out assault to coarsen our culture. Do movies reflect culture or fashion it? While probably some of both, I’m of the opinion that movies shape culture far more than reflecting it. When Clark Gable took off his shirt in “It Happened One Night” (1934) and wasn’t wearing an undershirt, millions of men copied him and the underwear business took a big hit. That didn’t reflect society, it changed it.

That is why I have such antipathy for Apatow and his movies. He has a talent, but he squanders it by making movies that lower the quality of our culture. I don’t believe I’ve seen an Apatow movie that didn’t use the “f” word more than any other word, including “the.”  Apatow seems to think that he can take a line that is not funny and make it humorous by adding the “f” word. I have yet to hear a line that was made funny or funnier by the addition of vulgar language.

In this film Apatow has what is intended to be perceived as a normal, middle class couple eating dinner. During the conversation the mother throws out the “f” word as if she uses it every day. Is that a reflection of our society? Or is it an attempt by Apatow to influence society, to make the use of the “f” word as ordinary as “and” and “but?”

Despite the crude language, unlike most of his previous efforts, this one actually has a little humor in it. Fittingly, he gave himself a writing credit (with Rogen and Evan Goldberg). Directed by David Gordon Green, this follows Apatow’s formula for dumbing-down comedy.

Dale is a process server who is carrying on an affair with an 18-year-old high school girl, Angie Anderson (22-year-old Amber Heard). Dale is addicted to marijuana and buys it from Saul. After picking up some top grade weed from Saul, called Pineapple Express, Dale goes to serve a subpoena on Ted Jones (Gary Cole), who is a big-time drug dealer and the sole supplier of Pineapple Express. While sitting in the car outside Ted’s apartment, he witnesses Ted and his accomplice, a female cop (Rosie Perez), murder a man in Ted’s apartment. Dale runs, leaving his roach on the ground. Jones and his accomplice see him and pick up the roach, thereby leading them directly to Saul. The rest of the movie is Dale and Saul trying to get away from Ted’s hired killers with all sorts of complications.

Apatow is lucky he has linked up with Rogen, who is a very talented comedian. This could have been just as funny, if not funnier, if nobody used the “f” word. It adds nothing to the film. Every time I see such profligate use of gutter language I try to envision Cary Grant or Dennis O’Keefe, or Jimmy Stewart using that kind of language in film. It is so beneath them that I can’t even imagine it.

It’s not just the language that condemns this film. Apatow has loaded it with gratuitous violence that has virtually no consequence. A prime example is that Red (Danny R. McBride), who is Saul’s supplier, is shot in the stomach and chest, but seems to suffer no ill effects.

There are some humorous moments in this, due mostly to Rogen’s talents as a comedian. I actually chuckled out loud a couple of times. But those moments are relatively rare, as this just seems to go on forever. I will say, however, that Green has done a pretty good job of pacing, even though there are lots of scenes that cause my watch to get a workout. Basically without Rogen this would be a first class dud.

The worst part of the film occurs after the dustup climax, during which more people are killed than appeared in the entire film. Dale and Saul and Red sit in a coffee shop and talk about what just happened for about as excruciating a ten minute period as I’ve spent watching a film. It wasn’t that funny to watch and now we need a post mortem?

August 5, 2008