DVD 1/6/09: Pineapple Express, Ghost Writer, Bangkok Dangerous, Babylon A.D., Disaster Movie

Pineapple Express: Two-Disc Unrated Edition (NR, 2008, Sony Pictures)
Despite being the current torchbearer for buddy stoner comedies, the “Harold & Kumar” series has one big problem: Its best character isn’t one of the buddies, but Neil Patrick Harris playing a Hell-dimension version of himself. This, happily, is a problem “Pineapple Express” — which tells the story of a guy (Seth Rogen), his dealer (James Franco) and the massive problem they have after stumbling upon all kinds of serious criminal activity — doesn’t have. This isn’t to suggest “Express” lacks memorable supporting characters; to the contrary, there’s a veritable buffet of those (Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Kevin Corrigan, Ed Begley Jr., Amber Heard, Nora Dunn) as well, along with large helpings of screaming, violence, sight gags and ridiculous plot twisting over the course of a runtime that’s maybe 10 minutes too long. But the best defense of comedic excess is, as always, the ability to bring the laughs. And even as it spits out formulaic heist clichés and walls of headless chickens losing their minds, “Express” is so brilliantly, cleverly and stupidly funny enough — from Rogen and Franco on down — to get away with every crime it commits. That said, the easily offended best keep their distance. And if the Judd Apatow film comedy revolution has left you weary so far, “Express” likely will turn you off completely.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, deleted/extended scenes, 13 behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, line-o-rama, direct-o-rama.

Ghost Writer (NR, 2007, Genius Entertainment)
So hey, how’s your blood pressure level these days? It bears checking if you’re considering a viewing of “Ghost Writer,” which tells the story of one creatively frustrated guy (Alan Cumming) who takes in another guy (David Boreanaz) as a boarder, only to discover he’s something of a freeloading playboy. That’s a low-concept concept if ever there was one, and if you judged “Writer” purely by the art on the box, you’d be well within your right to assume it’s some stock horror film that lucked its way into a good cast. Surprise: Not even close. Were “Writer” to achieve typical classification, the “comedy” tag would be far more appropriate, but even that doesn’t properly encapsulate the inspired but wildly overcaffeinated performances our two leads bounce off each another. More a filmed play than your traditional movie, “Writer” is so manic as to be somewhat stressful in spite of its ability to entertain, and the faint of heart may not even be able to take it in one continuous dose. All that energy makes “Writer” impossible to flatly praise or pan: Some will find it brilliant, others violently annoying, and there’s no shortage of arguments for either side. Either way, that’s quite a feat for a film of such pedestrian pretensions. Anne Heche, Jane Lynch, Carrie Fisher, Karen Black and Henry Thomas also star.
Extra: Cumming commentary. (He also directed.)

Bangkok Dangerous: 2-Disc Special Edition (R, 2008, Lions Gate)
“Bangkok Dangerous” does, indeed, take place in Bangkok. So the title is half truthful. But dangerous? Eh, not so much. Films about longtime hit men (Nicolas Cage in this case) who want out of the racket often tend to go the same way, and once our anti-hero decides his next hit is his last, you get the feeling “Dangerous” isn’t taking any less-traveled roads. The details differ, and for a time, the nuances of Cage’s character and the people with whom he most closely associates (Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Yeung) appear interesting enough to carry the film in spite of the ongoing threat of plot predictability and cliché. But you can fool yourself for only so long before it’s time to admit the story isn’t pulling its weight, and it’s hard to care too much about anyone once that admission is out in the open. “Dangerous'” gloomy tone and reliance on stock twists send it limping into its last act, and the final showdown — a sleepy, overlong affair that bears little resemblance to the jaw-dropping climax of the 2001 Asian original of the same name — puts it down for good. When an action film’s final bullet inspires relief instead of exhilaration, something definitely is wrong.
Extras: Alternate ending, two behind-the-scenes features, digital copy.

Babylon A.D.: 2-Disc Raw and Uncut Edition (NR, 2008, Fox)
American mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is stuck slumming it in war-torn Russia, unable to return home after being branded a terrorist and marked for death. All that changes, however, when Toorop is asked, under shady circumstances and without any real explanation, to escort a girl (Mélanie Thierry) to New York, which is four times as populous as it is today and overrun by corporate control. Sound familiar? If you’re any sort of connoisseur of post-war sci-fi — or perhaps if you saw “Children of Men” recently — large portions of “Babylon A.D.” will definitely invoke feelings of déjà vu. There exists no shortage of cool things to look at, and some of “A.D.’s” visual stabs at post-war tomorrow are compelling on a superficial level. Problem is, all that cool-looking stuff is rooted in ideas we’ve seen in so many other visions of a post-war future, and “A.D.” doesn’t do much to advance them in any unique or meaningful ways. That leaves the burden of engagement on the story and characters, but between some silly dialogue, excessive in-your-face-itude and a budding relationship that never feels nearly believable enough to carry the emotional weight it’s asked to carry, there’s even less going on there. Everything “A.D.” does has been done before, and just about all of it has been done better, making this just another pretty also-ran with potential it won’t ever achieve. Michelle Yeoh and Gérard Depardieu also star.
Extras: Five-minute animated prequel (that, accidentally, suggests the entire thing would have been better off animated), deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features, stills gallery, digital copy.

Disaster Movie: Unrated (NR, 2008, Lions Gate)
The nicest thing one can say about “Disaster Movie?” All together now: They finally got the name right. “Disaster” is the latest in the strikingly awful line of plain-named parody films that — the pleasantly surprising aberration that was ” Superhero Movie” aside — are among the worst movies ever belched out by a studio of paid, professional filmmakers. The formula remains the same here: Slap together depressingly witless “parodies” of a few dozen films and pop culture figures who passed through the headlines since the last awful “Movie” movie, and justify the horror that ensues with a story that’s little more than a coat rack to keep all these awful skits in place. If there’s a nice thing to be said, it’s that “Disaster” is, if absolutely nothing else, charitable. Rare is the film that nobly and ably makes the likes of “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie” look almost tolerable by comparison. And while the freight train of lousy 2009 DVDs has only begun to roll, the arrival of this beauty straight out of the gate practically guarantees that no DVD released in the 51 weeks ahead need worry about being branded the year’s worst.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, six behind-the-scenes features, two sing-alongs.