I've been waiting for James Franco.
It has been obvious since James Franco's appearance in the critically acclaimed "Freaks & Geeks" and his Emmy-nominated performance as James Dean that he is an immensely gifted young man blessed with a mesmerizing talent.
Despite Franco's immense talent, Hollywood has largely cast him in a series of big budget motion pictures in which he really hasn't been called upon to do much beyond be the pretty boy.
Admittedly, Franco is quite the pretty boy. However, he offers so much more.
Of course, you most likely know Franco for his appearance as Harry in the last three "Spider-Man" films opposite Tobey Maguire. While not exactly taxing roles in terms of acting, the "Spider-Man" films have afforded Franco the luxury of being able to pursue a variety of low-budget indie projects under his Rabbit Bandini Productions label with friend Vince Jolivette. If you've managed to catch any of these projects, most notably the offbeat "The Ape," a film Franco also co-wrote and directed, then Franco's standout performance in "Pineapple Express" will come as no surprise.
This is the James Franco I've been waiting for to show up onscreen, and he does it alongside "Freaks & Geeks" co-star Seth Rogen in a film directed by David Gordon Green ("Undertow") and produced by Judd Apatow.
Right up there with "The Big Lebowski" in terms of stoner flick greatness, "Pineapple Express" continues the Apatow tradition of bromance, lowbrow humor and unapologetic silliness and tops it all off with a surprising amount of male machismo stoner violence.
Rogen ("Knocked Up") plays Dale Denton, a hardcore stoner who makes his living as an ultra-creative process server. Dale is constantly high, even when visiting his high school senior girlfriend (Amber Heard, "Never Back Down"). He has a drug dealer, Saul (James Franco), whose about the closest thing he has to a friend in the world and together they philosophize on all things pot-related.
During a routine visit, Saul sells Dale his newly acquired primo pot, pineapple express, that is said to be so smooth it smells like "God's vagina."
The easily offended might want to steer clear.
Dale takes off with his weed to serve a subpoena to a Ted Jones (Gary Cole, "Office Space"), who just so happens to be the supplier of Saul's primo weed and also just so happens to be offing someone as Dale takes one last toke before heading up to the house.
What follows is a perfect, dare I say primo, blend of stoner comedy, hardcore action and offbeat bromance with healthy doses of silliness and sweetness.
Saul's middle-man, Red (Danny McBride, "Drillbit Taylor"), shows up with often hilarious results, and Dale's attempt to sit down to have a normal dinner with his girlfriend's parents (Ed Begley, Jr. and Nora Dunn) in the midst of it all is predictably disastrous.
If you can forgive the obvious plot holes and complete lack of logic in Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg's ("Superbad") script, "Pineapple Express" is likely to leave you laughing throughout most of its slightly long 105 minute running time.
It would also help if you can forgive the politically incorrect nature of Saul's dealing in a schoolyard and, of course, Rogen's fairly chaste romance with his beautiful school-aged girlfriend, though it is noted that she is 18-years-old.
David Gordon Green more than proves his acting chops here. Green has, up to this point, been primarily known as a director of ultra-low budget, intimate films about the human condition. With "Pineapple Express," Green makes sure that we care about these characters even as we're laughing both with them and at them practically nonstop.
Longtime Green cinematographer Tim Orr does amazing things with scenes that would, on the surface, appear to be quite basic. Action sequences are filmed to their absolute comic and action potential, while a wealth of production design touches are added along the way that complement the scenery perfectly.
The two leads have a delightful chemistry, one that allows for the absurd action going on while also never making light of the male bonding going on. In the midst of all this humor and chaos, these two loner stoners are realizing a beautiful friendship and their own potential.
In "Knocked Up," Rogen never quite let go and let himself be vulnerable in his scenes with Katherine Heigl, perhaps due to an obvious absence of onscreen and offscreen chemistry. Here, however, Rogen is both a vulnerable and histrionic kung-fu panda.
Franco, however, is the true revelation of "Pineapple Express," with an award-worthy performance that finds places in Saul that are both hilarious and touching. While it's doubtful the Academy would ever recognize a performance such as this one, Franco would easily get my vote for a Golden Globe nomination for his wondrously loopy take on Saul.
Danny McBride again proves himself to be a strong comic foil, while Gary Cole is a nice mix of creepy and corny as the drug dealer chasing down our stoner buddies.
It seems like Apatow has been producing at a rate of a film a month this year, and yet his ability to keep finding quality, entertaining material is undeniable. With only a couple of exceptions, think "Drillbit Taylor," Apatow's record this year is practically spotless.
"Pineapple Express" is one of Summer 2008's best comedies, and may finally be the film that shows Hollywood how to cast the immensely talented James Franco.
What else can I say? "Pineapple Express" is primo.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic