Pineapple Express Review
After the success of Superbad, it seems the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg can do no wrong - sure Rogen’s Drillbit Taylor was a flop, but I felt that was a little underrated. Now he’s back with Goldberg and co-starring alongside his Freaks and Geeks Cohort James Franco in Pineapple Express, the story of a pot addict and his spacy drug dealer who find themselves on the run from a dangerous drug baron.
Dale Denton is a simple-minded, irresponsible pothead whose job as a Process Server gives him plenty of time to dabble in his favourite past-time. He has a strained relationship to his highschool girlfriend and an extremely reluctant relationship with his perma-stoned pot dealer, Saul Silver. Saul’s latest stock is new wonder dope Pineapple Express, which has been indirectly supplied to him by local drug baron Ted Jones. Dale has to serve a writ to Jones later in the evening, but after stopping to have a quick smoke before hand, he witnesses Ted shooting dead a rival Asian hitman in cold blood and quickly flees the scene, leaving behind his half-smoked roach. Realising later that Ted could have picked up this joint and traced the special dope back to Saul, Dale has no choice but to go on the run with Saul and try to stay one step ahead of Ted’s goons, while a war between Ted and a rival Asian gang begins to heat up.
If I rated films based solely on their opening acts, then I’d probably be joining the growing following that Pineapple Express appears to have online. From the mock black and white flashback in which the U.S military discovers the subversive effects of heavy pot use, to an engaging montage that introduces Dale Denton and his liberal opinion but non-liberal use of marijuana, while going about his work as a despised Process Server, Pineapple Express makes an excellent first impression and feels like a rather affinitive take on today’s slackers who partake in casual drug use.
When Dale does eventually hook up with Saul, things settle into a more standard reefer comedy, where two potheads hang out, get stoned and babble incoherently about everything and anything. It’s here that Rogen and Goldberg’s script shines, with the dry, conversational humour making a number of amusing observations on the lifestyles and awkward friendship that Dale and Saul share. Most of all they are both extremely likeable leads; Dale is a bit of an everyman with many neo-masculine issues, and Saul is a quite a harmless, amiable soul who seems one step away from full-blown psychosis.
The humour of Pineapple Express is a bit like Will Ferrell meets Superbad, it revels in lengthy exchanges between two socially tuned out friends, but also adds Ferrell-like slant where the characters vocalise every little thought they appear to be having, so for example while one character is beating on another, he’ll also be explaining the confusion and thought process behind his actions. This forms many of the best gags in Pineapple Express – particularly whenever Saul’s pot supplier and on/off friend: Red is on screen, but there’s also a genial, sarcastic edge that you find in Rogen’s other films.
I can’t help but feel that Pineapple Express could have lived up to the “best comedy of the year” tag had Green and Rogen kept the film character driven and simply followed Dale and Saul as they get high and rally against the criminalisation of cannabis, while also dealing away their special Pineapple Express batch and trying to keep one step ahead of an incompetent drug baron. Instead it develops into an extremely generic buddy chase film that follows the basic clichéd format of pairing an awkward partnership together, then breaking them up so that they can re-affirm their friendship in the closing act. And it works for a while, but after about an hour the story feels seriously played out and the comedy much more obvious.
The disregard of narrative and character development in Pineapple Express is quite astounding, you have learned everything about Dale and Saul within two minutes of their introduction, and it’s all they are by the end of the film. Even Superbad, which was as episodic and derivative of its subgenre as this film, at least developed and evolved a series of engaging, believable relationships - from the protagonists down to many of its supporting players. Pineapple Express doesn’t do this; all of the supporting characters are there for comic relief alone, with only Red really making any kind of impression. The villains in particular are extremely bland and one-note.
Frequently I found myself wondering how much of a shooting script was being used. Most of the scenes in the film have a heavy improvisational feel to them, with many of the gags dragging on and on, almost as if Green is trying to subdue the viewer into laughter rather than drawing it out naturally. Many scenes linger into pointlessness, and many of the action set pieces are simply far too convoluted. An excellent example of this is when Dale and Saul get into a massive brawl with Red when they discover he’s working for Ted’s goons, which features a handful of inspired comic touches that are quickly forgotten about because the fight just keeps going on and on until the laughter has long stopped.
Also, as the story progresses the tone of the film switches from a more character driven comedy into high action farce, with a surprisingly brutal edge. Part of me admires the way Green, Rogen, and Goldberg repeatedly throw logic completely out the window and take the film off on this bizarre action tangent without offering a neatly wrapped up conclusion to most of the plot strands, but as with everything else about Pineapple Express, it is too heavy-handed. The concept appears to be an action siege finalé where the heroes can’t fight or shoot for shit, but the comedy just isn’t anywhere near as sharp as it is earlier in the film and Green fails to maintain a manic tongue-in-cheek tone; mostly because the sequence could and should have played out in half the time, but also because the violence is a little too real, betraying the wacky comedy.
The cast all do a pretty good job, Rogen has played the same character since 40yr Old Virgin and it’s not showing any signs of tiring just yet. James Franco is surprisingly effective as the permanently stoned drug-dealer-with-a-heart: Saul Silver, giving perhaps the best stoner performance since Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. Gary Cole and Rosie Perez struggle to make any comic impression as the villains Ted and Carol, which is more an indication of the seemingly non-existent writing for those roles than the actors themselves. Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson provide a stronger antagonistic presence as Ted’s goons, but it is Danny McBride and Ed Begley Jr. who make the funniest impression of the supporting players – in particular McBride, improvising up a storm as the geeky, vaguely homo-erotic Red.
Pineapple Express provides some inspired comic touches for a good hour of its runtime, but this ultimately proves too little, too early as the narrative drags its feet towards a rather disappointing finale. Rogen and Goldberg’s latest is enjoyable but never involving, which considering their obvious talent, is more than a little disappointing.
PresentationSony have opted to provide 2 versions of Pineapple Express on the UK Region Free Dual-Layer BD50 disc, there’s the original US Theatrical Cut, (which restores the cuts made to a scene of high school kids smoking pot for the UK cinema release) and an Extended Cut that lengthens the film by roughly 7 minutes. I can’t say the new scenes add or detract much to the film at all, there’s an extra scene with Angie and her parents that reveals what happened to them after going into hiding and there’s also a cameo from Drillbit Taylor’s Troy Gentile who plays Ted’s irascible son. Most of the other additions are just extensions of scenes from the Theatrical Cut.
Presented in the film’s original 2.40:1 ratio, the black and white opening looks gorgeous, with extremely balanced black levels and contrast and a very satisfying level of detail whilst maintaining a textured, grainy film-like appearance. When Pineapple Express switches into colour the high standards are maintained, colours pop off the screen with a vibrancy befitting the HD format and skin tones are even and natural. Detail remains impressive and a light layer of grain pervades, there’s a smidgen of ringing apparent on a few occasions, but it’s so minor I’d imagine only viewers with screens above 100 inches will notice it.
Encoded using the AVC codec the bit-rate averages out at 20.47Mbps. The compression is generally excellent, and the only real digital noise in the image I could spot was some relatively minor low level noise in the darkest scenes. It was barely noticeable on my 103” screen though. Perhaps the one strike against the video is that black levels can be inconsistent in night-time scenes and do tend to dip into dark blue. Overall the transfer is very good indeed and at times comes close to hitting the standards of Sony’s Casino Royale BD.
Pineapple Express doesn’t really push the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that hard for most of its runtime, but the audio is very pleasing. Dialogue is clear and smooth, with natural bass and a mildly expressive soundstage when the soundtrack kicks in. The bass also has solid presence here as well. When the action kicks in the track becomes aggressive, but not forceful; bass has punch and gunfire sounds reassuringly authentic. There’s not a terrible amount of directionality in the audio, but the dynamics are good.
Optional English, English SDH, and Hindi subtitles are provided, as well as a DD5.1 English Audio Descriptive Service track.
ExtrasSony has provided an impressive amount of extra footage onto this disc, I’ll just list them all and give a brief rundown/review:
All the extras are shown in 1080p but some are sourced from terribly soft 2.35:1 standard definition masters, whilst others are from higher definition sources (most likely 720p), so look out for the 1.78:1 HD tag I have placed next to the higher-def extras. (Note the only exceptions to this is the Comic-Con Panel feature, which is SD, non-anamorphic 1.85:1; and the Red Band Trailer, which is true 1080p). English subtitles are provided on all extra features except for the Red Band Trailer.
Commentary with Filmmakers and Cast: There’s an impressive amount of people on this track, the core group consists of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Evan Goldberg, Danny McBride, and David Gordon Green. Ed Begley, Jr. Starts off with the group, but leaves after around 15mins, which is a shame as he proves a very sharp and entertaining commentator. He’s replaced by Rosie Perez and Craig Robinson, and later on Producer Shauna Robertson, then Kevin Corrigan joins the chat via telephone. As you can imagine given the people involved in the track, this is a very funny commentary that features lots of lighthearted banter between friends, while Apatow, Rogen and Green make sure that a fair amount of information on the film’s shoot is also discussed.
Deleted Scenes (03min 27secs): 3 short scenes here , all of which were right to be dropped from the finished film. The first, entitled: Elevator simply shows Saul and Dale leaving Saul’s apartment building and walking right past Ted’s goons. Food’s Still Warm is a rather unamusing scene that sees the goons returning to the dinner table after Angie and her parents have made their escape. Finally: Troy provides more strained dialogue between Ted and his disrespectful son.
Extended & Deleted Scenes (21m 06s): This covers a range of scenes throughout the film. Most are rambling and overlong, but some feel like the original, scripted versions of certain scenes that were replaced by ad-libbed takes instead. There are a few laughs to be had in here but pretty much all the scenes that made it into the Theatrical and Extended edits are sharper and briefer.
The Making of Pineapple Express - 1.78:1 HD - (21m 07s): This featurette covers the history of the shoot from the script readings in 2006, up to the final days of filming. There’s quite a few alternate takes in here as well, and in particular you get a feel that the shooting script originally contained much more film references in it. This is mostly an atypical making of, which has input from pretty much everyone involved in the making of Pineapple Express.
The Action of Pineapple Express - 1.78:1 HD - (12m 19s): A pretty interesting feature that covers the shooting of most of the action in Pineapple Express. It reveals all the various technological tools they used to achieve a specific look, culminating in a breakdown of the fight between Red, Saul, and Dale where we get to see Stunt Co-ordinator: Gary Hymes directing and co-ordinating the action.
Phone Booth (06m 25s): Early footage of the phone booth scene, shot when Amber Heard had not been cast as Angie, so Judd Apatow is playing that role. There are 2 alternate scenes shown here, the 2nd of which isn’t fully scripted so Apatow feeds Rogen’s lines too him from the other line. As with the Deleted & Alternate Scenes feaurette, there are some giggles to be had, but the version that made it into the finished film is much more accomplished.
Line-O-Rama (03m 28s): A rapid-fire montage of alternate takes from various scenes in the film. Most of the cast is featured here, but it’s nowhere near as funny as outtakes you usually see in comedies like this.
Direct-O-Rama (03m 47s): This is quite an amusing feature that shows David Gordon green throwing some really random and obscure directions at the cast, catching most of them off guard. Actually seeing the process that achieves some of the bizarre character reactions in the finished film proves funnier than the finished product half the time!
Gag Reel (04m 55s): Self explanatory, there are a few amusing moments in this featurette.
Item 9 (04m 17s): This is the first of a series of extra features that appear to have been filmed specifically for the home video release. It’s some mock film reel footage of the army’s investigation into “Item 9”, featuring 2 case studies played by Justin Long, Ken Jeong, and Joe Lo Truglio. Again this is a rather uninspired feature that doesn’t nearly match up to Bill Hader’s stoned Private in the final film.
Saul’s Apartment (13m 47s): Another featurette apparently filmed for DVD/Blu-ray, which as the name implied is set in Saul’s Apartment and consists of 4 scenes in which Saul and Red chat to Ken Jeong’s Asian assassin, then Red chats to Justin Long playing one of his customers, then Saul chats to Joe Lo Truglio as Mr. Edwards, and finally Saul sits with his grandma. All the scenes are completely in character, don’t feel scripted, and are shockingly unfunny making this 14minute featurette feel like it is 4hrs long.
Raw Footage (32m 43s): Another pretty self-explanatory feature, a looong and varied selection of raw footage shot throughout the film, showing loads of improv that is at times funny but mostly just boring and rambling.
Begley’s Best - 1.78:1 HD – (05m 44s): Strange little featurette talking to Ed Begley, Jr. about his own-brand of eco-friendly cleaning products, it shows the man in action at home taking and fulfilling mail orders, and supplying local stores. It’s not all rather tongue in cheek and if you do a search for Begley’s Best you’ll see it’s not faked, but still pretty dull.
Red and Jessica’s Guide to Marriage - 1.78:1 HD – (04m 11s): Red’s wife is briefly mentioned in the film, but for this feature they’ve cast a buxom young blonde (whose name doesn’t appear to be credited anywhere online) to appear alongside Mcbride for a mock guide on love and marriage from Red. This is another completely unamusing, uninteresting featurette.
Injury Report - 1.78:1 HD – (04m 56s): Rogen and Franco were knocked around quite a bit during the making of Pineapple Express, and in this on-set report they talk about their various bashes and scrapes complete with footage of some of their bumps – the most severe of which is Franco cracking his head open when he ran head first into a tree. The feature culminates in some joking around with fake injuries as well, which is pretty funny. One of the better features on this disc.
Stuntmaster Ken - 1.78:1 HD – (03m 12s): A spoof feature that mockingly sells physician/comedian Ken Jeong as a legendary stuntman, which features lots of mucking around with the real stunt team.
Rehearsal 3/6/07 – Police Liaison - 1.78:1 HD – (05m 40s): As the title suggests this is footage of Rogen and Cleo King rehearsing the scene when Dale Denton gets arrested by a frisky Police Liaison Officer. With Gordon Green encouraging and directing the improv, this is quite a funny alternate take.
Table Read 3/4/06 - 1.78:1 HD – (08m 36s): Footage from an early sit down script reading way back in 2006 which gives us the biggest glimpse into the script evolution of this project. There are 2 scenes featured here, the second of which features very different antagonists to what appears in the final film, it also has a more James Bond style slant to the action, which is far more elaborate to what they eventually filmed (no doubt down to budgetary restrictions).
Comic-Con Panel (07m 33s): The panel consisted of Judd Apatow, David Gordon Green, Evan Goldberg, Amber Heard, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, and James Franco, Apatow leads the questioning and gets pretty much everyone talking about their work on Pineapple Express and the history behind the project. There’s also a staged audience Q+A session at the end.
Red Band Trailer (02m 47s): No description needed here, this is a high quality 1080p TrueHD 5.1 showing of the red band trailer.
OverallPineapple Express is a frustratingly rambling comedy that runs out of steam a bit as it makes its way into the final act, but there’s still just enough comic inspiration and abstract stoner observations to maintain a moderate level of enjoyment throughout. It’s a shame because on paper this had all the makings of an instant classic. Sony’s Blu-ray release features very strong audio visual presentation that blows the DVD release completely out the water, and combining the uncut US Theatrical Edit with an Extended Edit makes this a definitive home video release.
There’s an exhausting amount of extra material on this disc, including an excellent commentary track from the cast and crew, but most of the extras aren’t that entertaining; so if you’re like me and prefer to just skim through a few shorter extras after watching the film, I recommend the Direct-O-Rama, Injury Report, Rehearsal 3/6/07 – Police Liaison, Table Read 3/4/06, and The Action of Pineapple Express featurettes.