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High-grade comedy

‘Pineapple Express’ delivers.

FRIED FRUITS: In stoner comedy 'Pineapple Express.'
  • FRIED FRUITS: In stoner comedy 'Pineapple Express.'

There's little doubt that “Pineapple Express,” the latest two-hour slice of hilarity from the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen brain trust, will be the breakout comedy of the summer. There's precedent, of course. Rogen, as he did in “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” plays an unself-conscious slob, goofy, laughing a doltish huh-huh-huh not too far from Butthead's, and raving — brow furrowed, 'fro bouncing, spit flying — at most everything. He's an heir to Albert Brooks, always playing himself, often irritated. Or as one of my friends says, he's the “fat Harrison Ford,” a movie constant whom audiences can't get enough of no matter how similar his performances are. And odd-couple male bonding once again takes center stage.

Rogen stars as Dale Denton, a process server with a car full of disguises (the better to sneak up on the subpoenaed) and a lot of down time between jobs to smoke copious amounts of pot. Which leads him, regularly, to James Franco, who plays his dealer, Saul Silver. A lot of the pre-press surrounding Franco, who's lately thought of as leading man material, says he's playing against type. But he couldn't be more believable as a stoner. I have a friend who's lived out west for a decade and sold high-grade marijuana for just as long, and I wondered, when I read that a stoner “consultant” had been hired during production, if he hadn't schemed his way on. Because Saul comes equipped with all the tell-tale details — red eyes, half closed and teary; hair unwashed and stringy; three-day stubble; striped Guatemalan pants; slipper-style shoes.

The weed that bonds them, a rare, highly potent strand called “Pineapple Express” that smells, Saul tells Dale, like “God's vagina,” also sends them on the run. It's a plot that smacks, probably intentionally, of some of the more ridiculous action comedies of the '80s: While waiting outside of his house to serve him a subpoena, Dale unwittingly witnesses Gary Cole's drug dealer murder a rival. In a panic, he peels out and tosses his joint. Cole, immediately drawn to the smoldering spliff on the road, picks it up, takes one whiff and recognizes his own strand. Realizing that the weed could be traced back to Saul, Dale grabs his dealer and goes on the lam.

Wackiness ensues, though not the hallucinogenic, wish-fulfillment type that stoner movies of late have plied.

As the movie climaxes, it shifts from stoner comedy to almost nihilistic stoner action-comedy. A lot of people, particularly McBride's Red, get shot, though usually even the most graphic violence manages to elicit laughs. Ninjas figure in.

Indie stalwart David Gordon Green, who's originally from Little Rock, makes the jump into the director's chair of a big-budget comedy admirably. His pastoral, lyrical style doesn't show its face much (not surprisingly), though there's a hilarious dreamlike sequence of Dale and Saul playing leapfrog in the woods that'll look familiar to any fan of Green's oeuvre. But that collaborative freewheeling style he's known for seems to mesh well with Apatow's crew. There's more weirdness here than in Apatow and Rogen's previous efforts, which helps, particularly when we get to the end, where the inevitable sweet dude-bonding culminates. This time they're bleeding, earless and shot. But still friends forever.

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