Hollywood has a long-running love affair with potheads. From Cheech and Chong's ganja-puffing in the '70s and '80s to Harold and Kumar's marijuana-fueled misadventures in the new millennium, stoner buddy comedies have established a smoky niche in American cinema. It was probably only a matter of time before this generation's R-rated sex comedy king, producer/director Judd Apatow, turned his attention to toking.
Apatow's go-to doofus-player, actor Seth Rogen, is Dale Denton, a pot-loving "process server" who spends his days delivering legal summons to unfortunate recipients. The job requires lots of car time—which affords Dale ample opportunity to indulge his love affair with Mary Jane. The 25-year-old stoner's other unlikely love, we learn, is 18-year-old high school senior Angie Anderson.
Dale appears to be leading the Stoned Slacker of the Year race—until we meet his dealer, Saul Silver. The affable, eternally stoned Saul makes Dale look like a Harvard MBA grad. Saul's only job is "quality control" as he perpetually puffs away in his apartment. Saul is eager to sell Dale the finest product he's ever procured: a stash of hash dubbed "Pineapple Express" that his supplier—another winner by the name of Red—has given him exclusive rights to distribute.
The pair's "idyllic" existence, however, is interrupted when Dale tries to deliver a summons to one Ted Jones. Dale is biding his time in his car in front of Jones' house—read: getting high—when he witnesses Jones and a female police officer gun down a man. In his panic, Dale tosses his lit Pineapple Express joint out the window and speeds away.
There's a problem: Ted Jones is Red's supplier. The discarded blunt quickly leads the drug kingpin back to Dale and Saul. As the not-so-dynamic duo tries to stay one stumbling, paranoid step ahead of their pursuers, they're drawn into a bloody turf war between Jones and an Asian drug cartel determined to extinguish him.
The film's main theme—besides smoking pot—is friendship. Dale and Saul's relationship evolves from a business relationship to a genuine friendship as they depend on each other to evade Jones' goons. When Saul gets captured, Dale recruits Red to help his friend. The final scene finds the beaten, bloody trio in a diner affirming how much they care for one another ("Can we be best friends?" and "I love you guys!").
Dale and Saul deal with stress by lighting up. But at a critical juncture after days of peril, Dale rebukes Saul for wanting to smoke yet another joint. He tells his friend that marijuana got them into this mess, and he wants to be done with it.
Pondering what they'd do if they weren't constantly stoned, Dale and Saul talk about career dreams. Saul wants to be an engineer, while Dale longs for a talk-radio gig. Saul also admits he got into selling marijuana to help his grandmother move into a retirement community—a noble motive for his decidedly ignoble "profession."
Angie confronts Dale for being a pot addict. Slowly, Dale realizes continually being high isn't good. He apologizes to Angie for being so irresponsible and reaffirms his commitment to making things work with her. Of note: Though never explicitly verified, it seems that by showing the 25-year-old Dale dating a high school girl, the film illustrate how his marijuana habit has kept him locked in perpetual adolescence.
Red says he's a Buddhist and expects to be reincarnated as a hermit crab. Dale suggests other things he might return as (if Red chooses to help him rescue Saul), such as an eagle, a dragon or Jude Law. Dale alludes to Jesus' words from Matthew 25:36 when he tells Saul, "You were cold, and I clothed you." A reggae song goes, "Think you're in heaven, but you're living in hell." Red and Saul discuss the eternal destiny of Red's deceased cat, and Red quotes Gladiator, saying, "What we do echoes in eternity." An Asian drug dealer makes a crude comment about oral sex and karma.
Most of the movie's sexual content is verbal, not visual. With regard to the latter, though, Saul tries to cut the duct tape binding his hands by rubbing them across Dale's belt buckle—with obvious overtones of homosexual activity (heightened by Dale's repeatedly exclaiming, "Yes!"). While trying to hitchhike, Saul pushes his thumb out of his pants and comments on what it resembles. Angie's outfits show some cleavage.
Verbally, there are at least a dozen crude references to the male anatomy and several to the female body, many of which refer graphically to oral sex. A mild example: Dale is concerned that when Angie gets to college she's going to "blow a bunch of dudes" and become a lesbian. We also hear detailed descriptive references to sexual activities involving specific body parts. A story about how Red might have contracted herpes from a stripper is especially foul, as is a sacrilegious comment that assigns a sexual organ to God, then compares it to Pineapple Express marijuana. A homosexual high school teacher asks Dale, "Why don't you date a nice guy your age?" and flirts with a male athlete. Red says he once worked as a gigolo.
Angie confesses she lost her virginity at 14; Dale says he's had sex with two-and-a-half women, which leads to a conversation about what constitutes "a half."
Jones and the female cop repeatedly shoot a man, splattering a window with blood. "Brain f---ing blew everywhere," Dale tells Saul. Other intense violence includes Saul getting stabbed with a fork; Red getting shot twice after being duct-taped to a wheelchair; Dale getting shot in the ear (removing much of it) and then having some more bitten off during a fistfight with Jones; and several people getting stabbed in the back. Red brutally dispatches a henchman by ramming and pinning the man's head (or what's left of it) between his car and another car's bumper. We also see him in a bathroom after he's been shot and glimpse a bloody knife on the toilet, implying that he carved the bullets out of his body.
An exploding vehicle lands on a corrupt police officer, and perhaps a dozen or so people are shot with automatic weapons in a firefight between Jones and the Asian cartel. Saul kicks through a car's windshield, with bloody results for his foot. An explosion hurls a man against a wall, horribly disfiguring him. There are also car chases, reckless driving, more shootouts (one of which wounds an innocent bystander) and a person getting hit by a car. Several folks are kicked or hit in the crotch, of course. And two stoned guys accidentally ram their heads into trees and rocks.
Crude or Profane Language
After a dinner Dale has with Angie's family goes very wrong, her father says to her, "Angie, you're a f---ing idiot." And that's just one of almost 300 profanities and obscenities that litter the script, including 150 or so f-words (more than a dozen of which are paired with "mother"), about 70 s-words and 20 abuses of Jesus' or God's names (including several conjunctions of the latter with "d--n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
It's hard to overstate the marijuana smoking we see onscreen in Pineapple Express. Early on, Dale calls a talk-radio program as callers are debating the merits of legalizing marijuana. Dale says that he'll lose faith in humanity if it's not legitimized within five years.
Dale and Saul smoke at virtually every possible moment—including while driving. We watch as they puff enormous joints, including a "cross joint" that can be lit on three of four ends, which Saul describes as "the apex of the vortex of joint engineering." We glimpse pot-smoking paraphernalia (such as large bongs).
The pair's habit produces predictable results: lethargy, giddiness, mischief, paranoia and hallucinations. Their befuddled, impaired state is played for maximum comedic value, including obligatory munchy jokes.
To raise money to escape Jones' pursuit, Saul and Dale head to a schoolyard to peddle Pineapple to students (perhaps late junior high or early high school age). We watch as several get wasted. A self-aware wink to the audience in this scene involves Dale pontificating about the dangers of harder drugs. Also underscoring the totally inappropriate and illegal nature of their activities, Dale gets arrested by a police officer who has zero tolerance for drug dealers targeting children.
Saul rebukes a customer who asks if he can sell him the prescription painkiller Percocet, saying he doesn't sell anything but weed. Several characters drink beer or wine.
Other Negative Elements
The movie opens with a flashback to 1937. The setting is a military bunker in which a soldier is smoking marijuana, called Item 9, as his reactions are monitored. When he responds profanely to the general in charge, the higher-ranking officer says that the soldier smoking pot must be disposed of and screams that Item 9 must be made illegal. In all likelihood, the setting and time are disparaging nods to the famous 1936 anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness.
Angie responds to Dale's confession of love by saying she wants to get married. That scares him to death, and he accuses her of being immature because she can't see how immature he is. At that point, the conversation devolves into a shouting match.
Dale vomits on Saul's printer. Red double-crosses Dale and Saul before helping them. A self-righteous cop brags, "I don't work for the law, the law works for me."
In some circles, there exists the perception that marijuana is a harmless drug that isn't worth worrying about. That perspective is effectively illustrated by Pineapple Express. But if you believe its producer, the film simultaneously—and oxymoronically—tries to demonstrate that this drug is anything but harmless.
The pro-pot argument is voiced by Dale himself, as he holds forth on its multitude of benefits. Marijuana makes everything better, he gushes. Like sex. And food. Dale is a bona fide Cannabis evangelist.
Obviously, though, it hasn't made his life better. Or Saul's. Both are aimless addicts. And by film's end, audiences see how weed wipes out your dreams, your relationships, your basic functionality. In extreme cases, you may even end up dead.
But which message is stronger? Producer Judd Apatow believes Pineapple Express' anti-marijuana theme is obvious, even if the movie's star doesn't. "Seth [Rogen] and I always argue whether or not this is an anti-pot movie," Apatow told Time magazine. "To me, it clearly is. Most of the film is people trying to murder these two guys, them trying not to get murdered, and it's all because they're smoking pot. Seth thinks that's too subtle."
I'm with Rogen. Even though Dale and Saul endure negative consequences, the film's slapstick nature makes it hard to take it seriously as a genuine message movie. I wonder if the more obvious lecture is simply, Smoking pot is fun. They may be constantly running for their lives, but Dale and Saul also have a blast getting high. For moviegoers to discern the message Apatow references would require them to consciously decide to think deeply and critically—after they stop cracking up over all the low-brow gags about drugs and sex. I suspect that's unlikely.
Case in point: As I waited for the movie to start, a man (perhaps in his early 20s) sitting next to me said to a friend, "I got the munchies. I took a puff right before I came in. I'm not going to watch this movie sober." When I walked out of the theater, the unmistakable pungent scent of marijuana lingered in the air.
So I wonder, which message is stronger?