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by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & any years on, the debate still rages: Who is the best stoner character in the movies? Jeff Spicoli (Fast Times), Jeffrey Lebowski (Big Lebowski), or both Harold and Kumar (White Castle)? And no, neither Cheech nor Chong count because their movies were so bad.





The definitive answer gets a little further away with the addition to the list of process-server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and his high-end pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco).





But this newest entry from the Judd Apatow comedy ranch goes a little further in its level of highness. In Pineapple Express, it's actually kind of hard to keep track of how many times someone lights up and inhales deeply. Ah, but there's also a niggling little inaccuracy that pot purists are going to kvetch about (it's OK to use a Yiddish expression, because Franco's pot dealer is a nice Jewish boy, complete with a nice little old Jewish bubbie played by Connie Sawyer): Nobody in the film smokes a bong. Everyone smokes joints (including one super-duper one in the shape of a cross!), and one guy tokes on a shiny pipe. It's true that someone uses a bong as a weapon...





But I digress.





Screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are the dudes who concocted Superbad, that grand mix of teenagers itching for sex and booze. Now they've given us a "lurid" tale of drug wars and dope users (along with a pretty high body count for a goofy comedy). And they've upped the laugh quotient via ridiculous dialogue. (They couldn't have been baked while writing it, could they?) Plenty of people fall down and bump into things -- usually headfirst.





It begins with an off-the-charts black and white segment set in 1937, suggesting that the U.S. military conducted underground experiments in the desert. Nope, not early weapons of mass destruction tests; rather, research in smoking doobies, which resulted in the wonder herb being labeled "illegal."





Now here we are, 70 years later, with Dale donning disguises, sucking down a joint or two, then serving subpoenas, and Saul reserving his special stash of Pineapple Express, the "dopest dope you'll ever smoke," for his best customers, one of whom is, of course, Dale.





So it really doesn't matter that Dale is dating a hot high school girl (Amber Heard) who has a hungry, short-fused, foul-mouthed, gun-toting daddy (Ed Begley Jr.!!!), or that the script features nicely delivered digs at Jeff Goldblum, Saddam Hussein and the Shins.





What matters is that there are strong suggestions that smoking too much marijuana can make you 1) paranoid, 2) careless, 3) idiotic. (Note: Dale and Saul smoke way too much marijuana.) And right near the beginning, Dale is lighting up right outside a fancy home where drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole, playing a slimeball with perfectly coiffed hair) and a crooked cop named Carol (Rosie Perez) bump off a member of a drug cartel. Let's just say it's a wrong place-wrong time scenario for our excuse-for-a-hero. Soon cops and criminals are after him and his dealer pal.





I could dwell on the on the film's violence, although I also found myself laughing at it (there's just something about guns and toes that sets me to giggling) or the amount of glycerin that must've been put in Rogen's and Franco's eyes for that wonderful glassy effect. But I have to go with the stunning discovery that James Franco has a truly funny side. After a string of glum characters, all glumly played (Spider-Man, Flyboys, The Great Raid) he fulfills the promise that he showed back in his Freaks and Geeks days. He provides many of the film's belly laughs, mostly through pratfalls and barely opened eyes. It's been clear for a while that Rogen is damn funny, but this time, Franco matches him. (The film's single funniest character, though, is Danny McBride's hapless Red.)





The only thing Pineapple Express has working against itself is the almost-two-hour running time. I've got nothing against crazy violence in a story that's ostensibly about a couple of guys accidentally mixed up with heavily armed drug "businessmen," mainly because so much of the violence is played for laughs. But those laughs would work even better without some of the blazing bullets and plummeting stuntmen. Cut 15 minutes or so of that stuff, and you'd have something on the order of high comedy.





PINEAPPLE EXPRESS


Rated R


Directed by David Gordon Green


Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Amber Heard, Ed Begley Jr., Gary Cole, Rosie Perez
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