Inside of Saul's (James Franco) apartment there is a poorly tacked-to-the-wall poster of Howard Hawks's Scarface. It's a fitting example of stoner interior decorating, but it also represents the lack of enthusiasm and respect that director David Gordon Green and screenwriters Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have for genre film making. Like much of modern pop culture, Pineapple Express is a mashing-up of styles instead of fine fusion.
Methinks some of Apatow's crew have become so confident in their success that they've eased into cruise control. Take, for instance, Rogen and Goldberg's script for last year's Superbad. It was an accurate and honest depiction of blind desperation under the hammer of male teenage horniness. The brilliance of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill carried Superbad, yes, but the script had a vulnerability to it that made the boobies and vagina jokes relatable. In contrast, the bonding tree scene in Pineapple Express rings false. Rogen writes his character as jaded, bitter, done.
David Gordon Green has always been feckless when it comes to affections. Prior to Pineapple Express, he survived on a legion of followers that ate up his emotions-at-arms-length approach to film making. But Gordon's reach for portraits of small town eccentricity always ended up as bastardized versions of southern stereotypes. This condescension shows up in Pineapple Express when two unwanted customers interrupt Saul and Dale's (Rogen) chill time. Dressed in jean shorts and sporting a pube mustache this trailer-park caricature is meant to stir up chuckles. Worse, when the pair leave, Gordon Green makes sure his partner's rat tail gets into frame for a parting shot.
As weary as Pineapple Express is, at least it finally cements Green as the mediocre director he's always been. I wish him well on this new career(ist) path, but it'd make me sleep better if his die hard loyalists would finally fess up to that "visionary" fallacy started by George Washington... and then file their Criterion edition DVD of that film behind the Chasing Amy one.
Thankfully, James Franco and Danny McBride block out Gordon Green and roll on their own instincts to deliver tiny doses of comic relief that (maybe) saves Pineapple Express from being the worst film of the year. McBride, who was excellent in the superior manchild comedy Hot Rod, is a Will Ferrell type box-office balloon waiting to burst, and James Franco could be the male equivalent of Anna Faris if he'd just back away from the pot humor and choose from a variety of roles.
By film's end, the pot humor, gangster play, and "chase film" sequences have been ground down into a neo-stoner action comedy so tedious that you wonder if Dale's referring to the film he's in when he tells a call-in radio host that "smoking pot makes bad movies better". Fine, but what about us sober viewers? Tacked to the wall, left hanging... just how I imagine that Scarface poster will be when Saul eventually moves out.