- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

Nobody likes a hypocrite - that’s why some political scandals provoke more outrage than others.

Sen. Larry Craig’s guilty plea after he was arrested for reportedly soliciting sexual activity in a public restroom was more surprising because the Idaho Republican had voted against various gay-rights measures.

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer helped bust prostitution rings and then lost his job in a blaze of headlines when it was discovered he used one.

It rankles when people tell us we should live one way while they live another.

It’s even worse when such people reap a financial windfall doing it.

That’s why a scene in the middle of the otherwise highly entertaining new movie “Pineapple Express” is so galling.

“Pineapple Express” stars Seth Rogen as pot-smoker Dale, who, along with his laid-back drug dealer, Saul (played by James Franco), goes on the run after witnessing a cop and a drug lord commit a murder. The bad guys identify the two by the very rare strain of weed the frazzled Dale leaves at the scene. The odd couple - Dale has a job and wears a suit, while Saul whiles away his days watching “The Jeffersons” - spend the rest of the movie dodging heavies, protecting loved ones and satisfying the munchies.

The funny film belongs to the tradition of the stoner comedy, first made popular by Cheech and Chong in their 1978 movie “Up in Smoke” and continuing right up to now in soon-to-be cult classics such as 2004’s “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

“Pineapple Express” is of a different strain, though: It grafts an anti-drug message onto its drug comedy.

In the middle of the film, the pair try to raise money for bus tickets out of town by selling some of that great dope they have. Dale gives a group of youngsters a lecture along with the weed. Don’t make marijuana a gateway drug, he warns: “Cocaine, don’t do that.”

It’s a preposterous moment in the middle of the movie and not just because it’s completely out of character.

Dale goes on to blame weed for the pair’s predicament, which has resulted in gunfights and car chases. “That obviously happened because we smoke marijuana,” he says. He goes on to talk about their stunted growth as human beings - Dale is a process server but would really like to be a talk-radio host. He says he’s just not functional when he smokes marijuana.

The sermons are brief - and transparently insincere. We’re soon back to laughing at the foibles of a couple of stoned slackers who must defeat the forces of evil through a drug-induced haze.

And they’re soon back to smoking up guilt-free.

It feels as if the makers of the film want it both ways - to win our applause for some belated and perfunctory anti-drug speechifying while cashing in on the knowing, group-identity-reinforcing laughter of the young target demo that is sure to recognize itself in the drug culture “Pineapple Express” affectionately sends up.

The promotion of the movie has proved just as hypocritical. Mr. Rogen and Mr. Franco appeared on the MTV Movie Awards in late May to create buzz around the film. The pair took out a big bag of what looked like marijuana and lit up. “We’re not really smoking a big fatty joint from this giant bag of fake weed on live television right this second,” Mr. Rogen said sarcastically. In a gesture of disapproval, the network panned wide, away from the stars, when the joke took place. Yet Mr. Franco said the stunt was MTV’s idea.

Mr. Rogen, who also co-wrote the film with Evan Goldberg and producer Judd Apatow, couldn’t even light up at a party to promote the film. The New York Post reported that when someone noticed “he was smoking a funny-smelling hand-rolled cigarette,” he was told to “put it out immediately or leave.”

How ridiculous. His backers are happy to have his character smoke a huge, two-reefer joint on-screen for laughs. Of course, if Mr. Rogen weren’t a regular pot smoker in real life - as he has often admitted in interviews - “Pineapple Express” likely never would have been made.

Perhaps it was Mr. Apatow, who reportedly is against pot use, who insisted on the anti-drug message in “Pineapple Express.” Perhaps it’s Columbia Pictures, the studio that’s distributing the film.

Both stand to make a lot of money off this stoner comedy - “Knocked Up,” another Apatow-Rogen project, grossed more than $219 million. Maybe they’ll feel some stabs of conscience about it - but they’ll do it, profiting off a drug culture they profess to deplore and laughing all the way to the bank.

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