Now: Pineapple Express (2008)
Then: Half Baked (1998)
Bud, Inaction, Comedy
With the Judd Apatow-produced stoner comedy Pineapple Express now lighting up movie screens, it’s time to revisit the movie credited with saving the genre from the roach-clip like grip of Cheech and Chong, 1998’s Half Baked. In Pineapple Express, marijuana aficionado Dale (Seth Rogen) and dope dealer Saul (James Franco) are on the run after Dale witnesses a murder; in Half Baked , pothead Thurgood (Dave Chappelle) is forced to become a dealer to save his friend, Kenny (Harland Williams), from prison. How do the two compare?
Pineapple Express and Half Baked have more in
common than joking and toking; in fact, one of the biggest similarities
is in how they gave outsider directors high-profile jobs. Pineapple Express is directed by David Gordon Green, whose prior films received acclaim at film festivals and died at the box office; Half Baked was directed by Tamra Davis, who at the time was best known for her video work and Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison . These unexpected directors made unexpected choices: Arthouse darling Green has said his aim for Pineapple Express was to celebrate the ’80s low-budget action films he grew up with; Davis insisted on Half Baked‘s garish, cartoony color palate to keep the movie’s energy level high.
Both Pineapple Express and Half Baked revolve around a crime, but the difference is that Pineapple Express is a crime film with a marijuana element and Half Baked
is a marijuana film with a crime element. Dale and Saul are running for
their lives; Thurgood and his pals Scarface (Guillermo Diaz) and Brian
(Jim Breuer) are running in circles. Sure, Half Baked‘s
protagonists are threatened by drug lord Sampson Simpson (Clarence
Williams III, playing it straight and getting huge laughs), but Pineapple Express‘s mix of blunts and bullets revs up the pace and the laughs.
Pineapple Express focuses on the not-quite-friendship between Dale and Saul; the reference point cropping up most often in reviews is Midnight Run , another film about an unlikely duo on the run. And, again, it’s a more cleanly focused film than Half Baked, which shifts between Thurgood, Scarface and Brian and Kenny. Pothead bonhomie is a big part of both movies, but the former film’s pared-down duo of Dale and Saul feels more focused than Half Baked, which despite its 82-minute running time, still feels meandering and padded.
Interestingly enough, both movies celebrate and condemn the weed-smoking lifestyle. In Pineapple Express, Dale actually suggests to Saul that getting high while on the run for their lives may not, in fact, be the best idea. Half Baked is more explicit — Thurgood gives up reefer for the love of his new girlfriend Mary Jane (Rachel True). Half Baked seems to be trying to have it both ways; Pineapple Express doesn’t feel the need to make any bold closing pronouncements of repentance on behalf of its hophead heroes.
Pineapple Express is going to hold up a lot better than Half Baked — it feels like a comedy about people who smoke weed; Half Baked feels like a comedy for people who smoke weed. While Davis gave the pot comedy a breath of fresh air with Half Baked, Green’s direction and a crisper storyline make Pineapple Express the more satisfying film. Pineapple Express works as a movie without any, ahem, enhancements to the viewing experience; Half Baked has a great initial hit of bright color and bold comedy, but when that first high wears off, that’s all it’s got.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in — which do you think is the funnier film, and why?