It seems like Apatow and Co. have a movie come out every month nowadays. And it made sense that film like this, a stoner “bromance” as its being called, would be the inevitable next step. The plot of the film concerns a subpoena server and 25 year old pot-head loser (Rogan, playing himself I’m pretty sure) who witnesses a muder and his needy drug dealer and even more prolific pot head (Franco) may be the only way to get out of the situation alive.
That said the movie itself is basically a series of subplots, which works nicely, especially with the little touches done in the film by the actors. However, when the film decides it should be a “proper” film and should make a goal oriented finale, it turns into a train wreck.
Now, I was probably the only person who went to see this not for Rogan or Franco or even Apatow, but for David Gordon Green, the director of this film. Green is best known, if known at all, for making gorgeous and meditative films about America (especially the south); individual slices of life in ensemble pieces. He has Altman’s scope but Ozu’s restraint. His film George Washington (2000) is one of the best films of the past decade and his All the Real girls is equally as pretty. I haven’t seen his other films, and I doubt many other people have either, as it seems he’s been relegated to the festival film circuit the last few times around.
This film proves that Green is a talented director and deserves more chances with substantially budgeted material, as well as further proving my point that his adaptation of one of the great American novels, A Confederacy of Dunces, which was to star Will Ferrell and Lilly Tomlin and subsequently never made as the adaptation went back to spend its third decade in development hell, was probably one of the best films never made (up there with Jodorowsky’s Dune , George A. Romero’s The Stand, or Orson Welles The Shadow).
What Green does here is play the film loose. From its spoofy cold open, which inextricably does have something to do with the plot to some playful editing this isn’t a film which is taking itself seriously. In fact, the film is best when Green is able to take his time, a New Wave inspired romp in the forest between Rogan and Franco is just hands down pretty and warm. And warm is the operative word for most of this film’s handling of its characters. Improvisation is always a big part of any Apatow-type film but this is the first one where it’s not so much to try and use the kitchen sink joke strategy, but to really make each character rounded and worthwhile. A great example is a rather arbitrary scene between Gary Cole who plays a drug lord and Rosie Perez as a bad cop, where they’re talking about their plans, but afterward the camera keeps rolling, and then there’s some great improvisational chemistry as they break out of the scene. Not to call attention to the process, but to say, “hey, even the ‘bad’ guys have lives and relationships.” And the final scene of the film, a great recap of its events, is to be applauded.
Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson play the hit men out to get Franco and Rogan, and play as something of their inverse, for as Franco/Rogan are creating a relationship, theirs is on the rocks and deteriorating. But of all the actors in the film, Danny McBride, who plays Franco’s supplier, steals every scene he’s in with a warped southern charm and an absurd peaceful optimism even after he’s just been beaten to a pulp or shot up.
The climax of the film is where it all unravels. The sub-plots come together in a bloody and explosive mess, and it seems that Green, frustrated at having to dispose of all of these likable characters, makes it as absurd and bloody as possible. And after the requisite final explosion they pull out the rug and break the rules to point even further to the absurdity of what just occurred. Though when the comedic and the violent meet it comes across rather uncomfortable, unlike the much more successful Hot Fuzz which covered much of the same territory as far as the buddy-action film goes.
The difficulty of trying to keep these subplots together in any sort of narrative is just one weakness. Rogan at times seems to be trying way too hard and Rogan and Evan Goldberg, who wrote Superbad together, re-visit almost all the same themes in a way that makes it seem like there’s some sort of thematic arrested development (leaving high school, “bros before ho’s,” etc.). The film also suffers from what every other Apatow film (except for Knocked Up) has had difficulty with. How verisimilar do they want to be? Are they spoofs, genre pieces, or genre subversions? What comes out is an uncomfortable and often bland mix of all three.
But, if you’re wondering about whether to see this film or not, you’re probably not worried about verisimilitude you’re wondering if this is a funny movie? Consistently and effectively, yes. But, with all of these sorts of films this is probably going to go over better with the guys. Like Superbad it's misogynistic, though I doubt its trying to be (if that is possible). It may also go over well with the gays too and by that I mean those in Queer Studies; there are themes here that have just been subtext before that would be quite interesting, but that’s for someone else to explore in another paper.