Call it the Summer of the Hybrid--and, no, I'm not talking about Priuses, for which the waiting lists are now reportedly as long as six months. No, this is the summer that The Dark Knight tried semi-successfully to combine a superhero flick with a philosophical inquiry, Hancock tried rather less successfully to combine the same with a substance-abuse melodrama (among other things), and The Happening tried, with complete success, to combine a horror movie with the thrill of watching paint dry.
Today Pineapple Express, a stoner-comedy-cum-violent-crime movie, joins the throng, and while it's not the best of the bunch it's certainly not the worst. The suddenly ubiquitous Seth Rogen (who also co-wrote) stars as Dale Denton, a process server with a substantial weed habit who happens to witness a gangland hit (conducted by Gary Cole and Rosie Perez, no less) and, worse, leaves behind a half-smoked joint that can be traced to his laid-back dealer Saul (James Franco). Soon the two are on the lam from the killers--losing themselves in the woods, dodging ninjas, and conducting a fraught series of negotiations with Saul's dealer, Red (Danny McBride), who can't quite decide whose side he's on.
There's plenty to like here: Franco's charmingly loopy Spicoli act; a hilarious prologue featuring Bill Hader as an Army volunteer testing the effects of experimental superpot; a comically berserk fight sequence poised midway between Goodman-Cage in Raising Arizona and Gandolfini-Arquette in True Romance; a marvelous turn by McBride as the scrupulously polite (and politely unscrupulous) Red. But it all goes on a bit too long and ultimately succumbs to the common bane of action comedies: Imagining that people showed up for the action.
Like every other comedy this year, Pineapple Express was produced by Judd Apatow (who also has a writing credit), and it evinces his trademark blend of the sweet and the swinish. (Imagine Superbad, but with fear of drug-related homicide replacing adolescent sexual panic as the excuse for male bonding, and you won't be too far off.) The touch of director David Gordon Green is somewhat less in evidence: Like Greg Mottola (who directed Superbad), the noted indie auteur seems to have discovered his inner Apatow.
In the end, Pineapple Express bears the hallmarks of many cannabis-fueled excursions (from what I've heard, obviously): There are moments of hilarity, of paranoia, and of tedium; time itself seems to distend (the movie unwisely runs to nearly two hours); and the whole thing winds up in a diner. The amusements may be ephemeral, but so too will be any regrets.