Rounding the third act of this stoner action-comedy, there's a big laugh that comes from a small moment of art-reflecting-life-reflecting-art. A low-level pot dealer named Red (played by the terrific character actor Danny McBride) psychs himself up for a modern-day OK Corral by cocking his firearm and sing-songing "Thug Life." He's playacting at being a toughie, and so too are the many and varied talents at work here in this affectionate bid at the buddy pics of the '70s and '80s.
Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the script with partner Evan Goldberg) plays a process server named Dale Denton who accidentally witnesses a murder and must go on the lam with his dealer, the sweet, half-lidded Saul (James Franco). (The title refers to a particular strain of weed that Saul sells Dale, weed so good it smells like "God's vagina.") The action follows the pair almost exclusively, and Rogen and Franco - who previously worked together on Freaks & Geeks and are part of über-producer's Judd Apatow's rotating roster - have a comfortable, freewheeling chemistry, like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder's.
Strip away the guys with guns chasing after them, and what you have are two loners stumbling onto a soulmate - or another hilarious, heartfelt ode to fraternal love in the same vein as Rogen and Goldberg's breakout from last summer, Superbad. In the morally uncomplicated landscape of the buddy picture, it's "bros before hos!" (as Red serially, nonsensically, cries out), and that idea might as well be hand-stenciled and nailed crooked to the door of the Apatow clubhouse. That exclusivity rankles less in Pineapple Express, partly because we are tossed a delicious little bone by way of Rosie Perez's pert, dirty cop and partly because the mostly male cast is so well-acted, right down the line, from the bad guys to the bit parts and, most especially, the unlikely leads.
Franco, who too often gravitates toward wet-blanket roles, is a revelation as the kind-hearted idiot savant Saul, and the smirking, plush-toy pliable Rogen (Knocked Up) defies action-hero conventions to achieve what he may count, in his twilight years, as his single greatest moment on film: a slo-mo free fall onto the back of a drug lord that rock-star splits between beauty and badassedness (it's blood-free, too, which cannot often be said about the film's hyper-violent, shoot-'em-up climax). Arthouse darling director David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) plays against type, too, and in the process has crafted a film that is at once elegant and sublimely silly.
That's no mean feat: When was the last time you paused during a Will Ferrell comedy to admire a sun-dappled, wooded idyll or how it recalled some long-ago romantic idea about AM radio?