High Times

Pineapple Express Is A Cult Movie In The Making

Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) has got it good (but not great). He might drive around in a beater car and wear a dingy, decidedly unfashionable brown suit, but he dates a hot high-school chick (Jeanetta Arnette) and holds down a job that doesn't require too much effort (he serves subpoenas). Hell, he spends half his day getting stoned, and it doesn't really affect his work. So when his drug dealer, Saul (James Franco), offers him a blend of weed called "pineapple express," he goes for it.

It's at this point that the trouble begins in Pineapple Express, a stoner caper produced by the ubiquitous Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin).

It's not that Dale can't handle the pot. He's able to function in his usual half-baked manner and even shows up to deliver a subpoena to a known crime boss (Gary Cole). It's just that as he's gearing up to make the delivery, he witnesses a murder. It's not long before the killers come after him, and since he dropped a roach on the ground outside the guy's house, it's not hard for the bad guys to connect the joint to both him and Saul, the only dealer in the city who's got the stuff. What ensues is a hilarious chase that finds the pair getting into a slapstick-heavy fight with their drug distributor (Danny McBride) and hijacking a police car. Eventually, the bad guys capture Saul, and Dale must try to find a way to rescue his pal. Here, the film becomes a bit too gratuitously violent for its own good (strange, since character development and witty banter are its forte) and indulges in a few too many explosions and shootouts, albeit in a manner that's more Reservoir Dogs than James Bond. Still, all the heavy artillery is distracting.

In the end, the chemistry between Rogen and Franco (and McBride's not bad as a guy who can take a licking and keep on ticking) overcomes the movie's flaws. Alumni of the short-lived Apatow TV series Freaks and Geeks, Rogen and Franco make for a good couple of stoners. They're smart enough to get out of the occasional jam and stupid enough to get into the occasional jam. And they bring to life the quips and banter (Rogen co-wrote the script) in such a way that the film's likely to become the kind of thing you'd watch again and still find something worth laughing at. - Jeff Niesel

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Call me a girlie man if you like, but I was looking forward to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 more than any movie sequel this summer.

While fanboys and nostalgists worked themselves into a lather over The Dark Knight and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I couldn't wait until Lena (Alexis Bledel), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Carmen (America Ferrera) and Bridget (Blake Lively) reunited for this surprising but most welcome follow-up to 2005's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I say "surprising" because the original film's domestic box office of just under $40 million didn't immediately tag it as franchise bait. Yet, like some other movies that didn't gain sea legs until reaching home video (Austin Powers is probably the most famous example), Traveling Pants found a large and enthusiastic following on DVD. Maybe Pants 2 will turn out to be the young adult equivalent to Sex and the City. It couldn't happen to a nicer movie.

Based once again on the novels of Ann Brashares, the sequel picks up the sisterly quartet's individual and collective stories a year after the first movie ended. Yalie Carmen is crushed when she learns that her friends have all made summer-vacation plans that don't include her. Tibby and Lena have elected to take classes (at N.Y.U. and the Rhode Island School of Design, respectively), and Bridget is headed off to Turkey for an archaeological dig. To avoid helping her pregnant mom (Rachel Ticotin) and stepdad move into their new house, Carmen decides to enroll in a Vermont theater camp.

Nothing goes quite according to plan. After losing her virginity to high-school sweetheart Brian (Leonardo Nam), Tibby has a pregnancy scare; Bridget leaves Turkey earlier than anticipated to pay a surprise visit to her estranged granny (the always-welcome Blythe Danner) in Alabama; Lena falls for a flirtatious male model (Jesse Williams) in her drawing class; and Carmen impulsively auditions for The Winter's Tale, winning the highly coveted role of Perdita and a posh British boyfriend (Tom Wisdom) in the process.

Like Traveling Pants 1, there's nothing particularly subtle or even original about the soapy, schematic plot. What makes the films special, though, is the delicacy of emotions so vividly and movingly conveyed by these four wonderful young actresses. Ugly Betty star Ferrera gets the choicest part this time as perennial wallflower Carmen. But director Sanaa Hamri, whose only previous film was the enjoyable biracial rom-com Something New, makes sure Bledel, Tamblyn and Lively all have their share of privileged moments too. Of course, this wouldn't be a true Sisterhood if they didn't. - Milan Paurich

Swing Vote

Bud (Kevin Costner) is your everyday delinquent single father. Most of the time, he's so hungover, he can't even get his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) to school on time. So when she reminds him one day that he's got to take her with him when he goes to the voting polls, it's no surprise that he's too busy throwing a few back at the local tavern to remember to do his civic duty. But in a presidential race where the outcome rests on a single vote, he becomes the center of national attention after his ballot is negated by a computer glitch. As a result, he gets to vote again, and since he will decide the fate of the candidates, the national media descends upon the tiny New Mexico town he calls home. "This is bigger than O.J.," pronounces the local TV-station director (George Lopez) as he sends his top reporter (Paula Patton) to get the scoop.

The outcome of Swing Vote is predictable, but it sure does take a long time to get there. You know that Bud - a "dumbass," as members of the media deem him - will come to understand the significance of the election process. It's just a matter of when. And you know the two presidential candidates (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) will flip-flop on the issues just to secure his vote. Yet you also know that they too will have a change of heart. And despite all this, you can't help rooting for Bud and his precocious young daughter, who is the mouthpiece for everything a democracy should be. Much of the credit goes to Costner, who, though often prone to pedestrian slapstick humor, plays the simpleminded Bud perfectly. And while the movie's too soft to really make its satire stick, it's heartfelt enough to make you forgive most of its flaws. - Niesel

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The O'Connell's - the mummy-busting couple from The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (Brendan Fraser reprising the role of Rick and Maria Bello stepping into Rachel Weisz's shoes as Evelyn) - find themselves bored in post-WWII England. They need some spice in their lives, and when their son Alex (Luke Ford) unwittingly unearths the immortal Emperor Han (Jet Li), they get all the excitement they can handle. Michelle Yeoh and Isabella Leong provide support as an immortal mother/daughter team, and John Hannah returns from the first two films to provide comic relief as Evelyn's brother Jonathan.

The mix of action and comedy we've come to expect from this series is here, and Fraser is his usual heroic self. There are also some pretty cool monsters, including a group of yeti and a three-headed dragon. On the downside, the movie takes too long to get started, Jet Li's character is mostly CGI, Maria Bello doesn't have any chemistry with Fraser and Luke Ford's Alex is just annoying. The flaws weren't enough to ruin the movie for me, but this is by no means among the top tier of popcorn movies released this summer. It's probably best for all concerned if this franchise stays buried after this. - Robert Ignizio

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