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You can’t harsh our mellow, man: (l-r) Rogen and Franco in Pineapple Express.

Cough Cough Bang Bang

By John Brodeur

Pineapple Express

Directed by David Gordon Green

 

Ah, the pot comedy. It’s a lost art, really; something Hollywood’s been missing for some time. Just ask Harold and Kumar.

In all seriousness, Pineapple Express, the latest harvest from Judd Apatow’s field of (nice) dreams, isn’t really as much a pot comedy as it is a buddy flick, a tense action-adventure film, and a parody of all of the above. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the team behind last summer’s gut-buster Superbad) with Apatow, and directed by David Gordon Green (Snow Angels), the film is more a spiritual heir to the great action-comedies of the 1980s like Lethal Weapon than it is to, say, Cheech and Chong.

But where those bygone films would temper a gunfight with a one-liner, Pineapple too often falls into a kind of deadpan parody during its most intense moments. It’s trying to hit the same balance as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an awfully lofty goal: Where Kiss Kiss took the action-buddy-comedy genre and turned it inside out, Pineapple feels like two totally different films spliced together. (Plus, Kiss Kiss stars Val Kilmer and Robert Downey, Jr. were aces at straddling the serious/satire line; Seth Rogen and James Franco, not so much. Who’s the straight man in a weed caper?)

Better said, it can’t decide what kind of film it ultimately wants to be—which might be part of the joke. The dysfunctionality of the stoner lifestyle plays a big role in the characters’ actions (at least for the first two-thirds of the film), so it’s possible the writers intended that dysfunctionality to play over into the script itself. If so, the film has more layers than it has any right to. But I don’t get the feeling that’s the case.

Rogen is Dale Denton, a 25-year-old process server with a trunk full of costumes, a full-time weed habit, and an 18-year-old high-school senior (Angie, played by Amber Heard) for a girlfriend. (“I think it’s consensual,” he tells a host on his favorite talk-radio station.) James Franco is his dealer, Saul Silver, basically a fleshed-out version of Brad Pitt’s Floyd from True Romance. (Sure enough, Apatow has remarked that he always wanted to make a movie that followed the Floyd character as he got chased by baddies. Merry Christmas, film fans.)

When Denton witnesses one of the guys he’s supposed to serve, another drug dealer (Gary Cole), commit a murder with help from bad cop Carol (Rosie Perez), our dynamic duo goes on the run. From there, the film jumps back and forth from relationship-building to big, loud action sequences, in classic Riggs-and-Murtaugh fashion.

Rogen and Franco do a good job with the odd-couple routine, delivering the awkward bro-mosexual moments we’ve come to expect from these films at a pretty fast clip; recent Apatow productions tend to play like feature-length versions of the “You’re gay” scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin. Director Green handles those bits well, but the action sequences are too often confusing, due to odd shot choices (the car chase looks like bad ‘70s TV; the overheads in the climactic fight scene are just out of place; that shaky handheld stuff needs to stop) and a damning inconsistency of tone. And Cole is all but wasted here; his evil kingpin is never allowed to develop into either a take-no-prisoners badass or full-on camp.

Still, it’s a pretty funny movie when it wants to be. If you have any reservations about weed smoking, know that it’s as ubiquitous in this film as Scotch and water in Barfly.

If you don’t, see it high.

Why Dig This Up?

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Directed by Rob Cohen

Some things just don’t get better with age. John McCain, Survivor, and the ’80s are just a few examples. Now add to that list The Mummy franchise. The goofily amusing original, The Mummy, and its almost as charming sequel, The Mummy Returns, come off like the finest vintage compared with the rotgut that is the third installation, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

This time around, tomb raider Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) has forsaken adventure and danger for a quiet, if stultifyingly dull existence with wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz) on an English manor. Between sips of after-dinner sherry, they muse over the collegiate misadventures of son Alex (Luke Ford), who, unbeknownst to them, is doing some tomb raiding of his own in China. Before the inanity of dialogue such as “We’re out of the espionage game” sinks in, the O’Connells join forces with Alex to prevent the Chinese army from resurrecting the Dragon Emperor and his terra cotta army from the depths of the Earth for a “take over the world” effort. I think. It’s all a bit hazy, as screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Miller seem more intent on throwing characters up against a plethora of special effects and computer generated gizmos.

Fraser appears utterly bored with the proceedings. Gone is the bonhomie and zest that infused the original two movies with pizzazz. Bello assumes a ridiculous English accent, the kind that prep-school kids have tried in countless dramas; this distracts from the fact that while she’s not Weisz, she’s not a bad replacement. Ford is eminently forgettable, which is unfortunate since his mysterious love interest (Isabella Leong) is a winner. Poor Jet Li has to make do with emoting under varying degrees of clayish makeup. Only Michelle Yeoh, as a wily sorceress, holds her head above the mediocrity.

The only bit of movie that does dazzle is its lengthy prologue, in which we find out about the Dragon Emperor’s rise to power, and the doom that befalls him (and his army). Here is the only bit of matinee magic, with spells being cast, mysterious incantations, magnificent shows of arms and amazing battles. Unfortunately, overall it is mindlessly dull, a sad ending to what had been an enjoyable ride.

—Laura Leon


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