Film review: An American Pickle offers two Seth Rogens for the price of one

Seth Rogen as both Ben Greenbaum and Herschel Greenbaum in An American Pickle
Damon Smith

TIME doesn't heal wounds in director Brandon Trost's fish-out-of-water comedy, which hopes to woo audiences back into cinemas with the promise of two Seth Rogens for the price of one.

That sounds like a good deal if you're already a fan of the hirsute Canadian star and co-writer of Superbad, Pineapple Express and This Is The End, who has carved out a niche playing slackers and stoners.

In An American Pickle, Rogen plays two generations of the same Jewish bloodline, who are miraculously brought together in present-day Brooklyn thanks to a ludicrous plot device that evokes memories of the 1992 comedy Encino Man, which thawed out a Stone Age caveman in the urban jungle of Los Angeles.

Screenwriter Simon Rich encourages us to ignore the plausibility of his dramatic set-up by introducing the time-frozen protagonist at a press conference where a sceptical media horde blindly accepts the explanation of a scientific expert: “Makes sense”, “Absolutely”, “Very clear…”

These opening scenes pack the highest concentration of salty-mouthed gags and relish taking potshots at obvious targets (Donald Trump, social media giants, fake news) as the characters navigate clashing cultures.

Unlike the titular kosher treat, Trost's picture becomes less flavourful and enjoyable over time, hurriedly adding spoonfuls of syrupy sentiment to contrive peace and understanding in the aftermath of conflict.

In 1919, accident-prone Jewish ditch digger Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) falls deliriously in love with Sarah (Sarah Snook) in his eastern European homeland of Schlupsk.

“She is strong and she has all her teeth – top and bottom,” he coos in voiceover.

The couple marries and Herschel finds work killing rats on the factory floor of the Capital Pickle Co. A freak industrial accident sends Herschel tumbling into a large vat of brined cucumbers on the same day the premises are condemned.

One hundred years later, Herschel reawakens in saltwater stasis, perfectly preserved without ageing a day. He meets his great grandson, freelance mobile app developer Ben (Rogen again), who introduces Herschel to metrosexual 21st-century New York: “Interracial couples, totally cool now… in parts of the country.”

The two men eventually come to blows over their heritage and religion.

“It's a good thing Sarah's not around any more. If she was, she'd be ashamed of you,” growls Ben, sowing the seeds of a bitter rivalry that makes news headlines around the globe.

An American Pickle runs out of sharpened comedic intent but Simon Rich's script packs a decent amount of giggles into 90 minutes.

Rogen activates performance autopilot playing Ben but clearly savours every heavily accented moment as a politically incorrect time traveller, who is 100 years out of touch with gender equality and civil rights.

Trost's film argues that Herschel is not alone.

AN AMERICAN PICKLE (15, 90 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone, Molly Evensen. Director: Brandon Trost

RATING: 6/10

Released: August 7

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