Pretend as you might, Seth Rogen’s Pineapple Express persona can’t be wished away. This time he’s a certifiable jerk, probably beyond redemption. In Knocked Up, Rogan played a typical post-adolescent drip, yet he won over both the audience and Katherine Heigl’s character with tiny gestures and by simply staying on screen long enough to prove his foibles were charming. Even as Officer Michaels, the corrupt cop in Superbad, Rogen was merciful to McLovin, thereby compensating for his boozy ineptitude. In Pineapple, he gives nothing; in fact, he becomes worse and worse as the film goes on. As Dale Denton, Rogen is a quipping bottom-feeder: a process server who smokes dope all day long and whose main ambition in life is to become one of those sleazy radio wags like Dr. Laura. Denton is a grown-up man dating a high school girl, but even while robbing the cradle he balks at any kind of commitment or consideration-unless motivated by petty jealousies. He’s loathsome, but funny : but also loathsome.
All that, and Denton is still the most sympathetic character in this, the latest from the Judd Apatow juggernaut (arguably his most adventurously hybridized flick so far). Basically a Cheech & Chong dope humor film with a Tarantino-meets-Coen brothers violent edge, Pineapple Express tracks, after a brilliant black-and-white red herring opening, the misadventures of pot paranoids (played by Rogen and James Franco) escaping badass gangsters and a corrupt, murderous police officer (Rosie Perez) in the middle of a drug war. Riddled with bullets and rapid-fire one-liners, the film constantly courts surrealism, too. It’s darkly humorous and much more concerned with genres than manners.
Unfortunately, this could be the place where the hit-making machine starts to show fault lines and underlying hubris (this film and Superbad were based on ideas Rogen had as a teenager). One way of looking at Pineapple Express, though, is its cheerful flirting with imperfection. Take the Apatow formula and push it through a crucible of THC: it’s a pipe dream. One moment it’s hard boiled, seconds later it’s all up in smoke.