Buzz kill: Stoner comedy goes bad 

The release of Pineapple Express portends a new way to mark off the American movie calendar. Certain dreary patterns already exist. After many good movies hit town in January and February, several weeks are filled with occasional glimpses of life and art and the most misshapen, leprous studio debris. The apex of the summer-movie brain-freeze is celebrated over the Fourth of July weekend, when Will Smith descends from the heavens. Thanksgiving means stuffed turkeys and James Bond films. The Ghosts of Oscar Seasons Past and Present haunt Christmas. And now it looks like those back-to-school days of mid-August will be eternally ushered in by the latest tiresome male fantasy from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Judd Apatow.

The fantastical boundaries of Pineapple Express' all-male Neverland are immediately established with Rogen's character, process server Dale Denton. He's a 25 year old whose job allows him to remain stoned most of the day. Preposterously, he dates a cute teen-age girl, and while he's talking to her in the hallway of her high school, he tells off an officious teacher. (Hooray for taboo-busting anti-authoritarianism, I guess.) Dale soon finds himself on the run from some bad guys with his drug dealer Saul (James Franco). Many bullets, car chases, and explosions later, the phallocratic order dusts itself off and stands up straight (kind of) once more. Holy predictability, Batman! I mean, Dark Knight!

What could director David Gordon Green, whose George Washington is one of the great American films of the decade, possibly add to these proceedings? Well, Saul and Dale's actions express a certain level of pathetic desperation that's frequently excluded from action movies. They're terrified at what might happen to them next, and they fight blindly and awkwardly whenever they're in jeopardy. Green and cinematographer Tim Orr also reveal social class and status through décor. The cluttered, run-down rooms where Saul and his philosophical, indestructible supplier Red (Danny McBride) live are covered in bad wallpaper or curtains, littered with stacks of media, and kissed by some defining oddity, like an astrology chart or a mannequin head. The Dude from The Big Lebowski could roll off of a couch, white Russian still in hand, and look perfectly natural.

Did Green halt or curtail Rogen and Goldberg's Neanderthal stance toward women, too? There's little of the misogyny and chauvinism that mark the dreadful Superbad. However, that may be a function of the script: There aren't any three-dimensional women anywhere in the movie. But the homoerotic dynamic between Saul and Dale is curiously tender, culminating with a fairly funny rescue attempt/bump-and-grind sequence in an underground marijuana farm.

Other laughs are sparse, because Pineapple Express is not a comedy for stoners as much as it is a movie depicting stoned people's struggles with the world. Fans of genuinely unpredictable, stoner-inspired comedy should try renting the just-released three-DVD set of the BBC TV series Spaced, directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by Simon Pegg. Spaced provides scores of energetic, non-sequitur belly laughs that, like Wright's visionary films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are filled with the heartfelt good vibrations that Apatow and his protegés can no longer find.

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