Naturally it all begins with a secret government experiment gone horribly wrong. Or right, depending on your point of view. In a secret government facility conveniently located in the middle of field and under a rock, the military developed Item 9. Weed so strong that it was not only declared illegal, the facility was ordered destroyed along with the test subject. Decades later, that facility, and possibly that weed loom large.
Thus begins an endearingly, you’ll pardon the expression, disjointed film that is funny despite fighting a losing battle with coherence. Not unlike its putative heroes. That would be Dale (co-writer Seth Rogan), a stoner who is also the best process server in the biz, and Saul (James Franco), his barely conscious dealer. It’s strictly a business relationship, though a friendly one, until Saul sells Dale some of his extra special product: the eponymous pineapple express, the rarest of the rare and something that only Saul has for sale. Well, it’s not actually the sale that’s the problem, it’s where Dale tokes on it while waiting to serve a subpoena on someone. The someone, Ted Jones (Gary Cole) turns out to be Saul’s supplier’s supplier and when Dale witnesses Ted and a policewoman (Rosie Perez), whack a rival drug dealer, he does the sensible thing, but badly. He panics, tossing his roach out the window while crashing his car into those near him. Ted finds the roach, identifies the weed, and traces it back to Saul and then to Dale thanks to the middleman, Red (Danny McBride), an intriguingly ambiguous character in many senses of the word who sports a poodle-like pompadour and makes birthday cakes for his cat. Soon the hitmen Ted has sent (Kevin Corrigan and Kevin Robinson), who are working through their own relationship issues, are hot on the trail of Dale, Saul, Saul’s grandmother, and Angie, Dale’s 18-year-old girlfriend and her family.
Yes, Dale and Saul are stoners, yes they are hopelessly inept, yes they have the combined brainpower one average hamster, and yet, they also have good hearts made up of much the same sort of marshmallowy substance that their brains have become after years of toking and that is the secret to the film’s modest success. Never mind that it seems to be made up of several ideas all run together and never quite coalescing, these two keep things loping along as the story sends up buddy films, action sagas, and even chick flicks with Dale and Angie’s good-girl-in-love-with-the-wrong-guy subplot that brings out the gun in Angie’s father (Ed Begley, Jr.) The real romance, though and in a strictly platonic man-crush way, is between Dale and Saul, who alternately save and repel each other as bullets, slushies, and dustbusters fly.
Rogan maintains his cuddly, teddy-bear image even while Dale delivers withering sarcasm with the driest of deadpan at Saul’s obtuseness. Franco, though, is one to watch. Eyes shining with the purest of emotions that are childlike in their simplicity and seriousness even while involving references to strippers and their orifices, he has a laidback sensibility that compels him to stops and smell the roses, or rather the luxuriant growth of several exotic species of weed, even as he’s led off to certain death by a hitman. When he yells that he’s going to rescue Dale by stealing a police car and making things much worse, there is a distinctly wholesome quality to his selflessness, even as there is that persistent cluelessness that compels him to tell Dale to be taller during a critical moment during one of their many attempted escapes from certain death.
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is silliness done right. There is nothing here that isn’t specifically designed to inspire laughter and most of the time, the jokes hit their target with a deadly accuracy. It may not be particularly memorable, but it’s so ridiculous and so well played that it’s irresistible.