Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are together or separately, a taste it took me a while to acquire. Their TV comedy left me cold. Their movie debut Shaun of the Dead warmed me a little, Hot Fuzz kept me laughing out loud, Pegg’s Run Fatboy Run won me over by the end. Very British, ironic, low-key and self-deprecating, these are the very quailities that limited their International appeal. Paul is their big-budget Hollywood break-out feature…
We are introduced to Graeme and Clive, minor author and illustrator respectively, sci-fi geeks visting the San Diego Comic-Con Convention, which they follow-up with an alien-spotter’s road-trip across America. It’s an uncomfortable trip with two fish out of water in a strange land – which gets even stranger when they have a close encounter with Paul – a fugitive alien of the grey-skinned, short-statured, big-headed and oval-eyed kind. Inept pilot Paul crash landed sixty years ago and is trying to make his escape before a shadowy government agency dissects his brain. What better accomplices than Frost and Pegg? Err…
Pursued by federal agents including the excellent Jason Bateman and the fanatical father of Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a Christian Fundamentalist whom they accidentally kidnap, Graeme, Clive and Paul fumble through their escape to a rendevous with Paul’s mother ship.
Frost and Pegg play their usual amiable failures, everyman under-dogs and this time, idiots abroad. The comedy comes more from the relationships than the situation (the chase elements are well done but nothing new). Bateman underplays his sinister agent to a tee, Wiig makes a believable born-again aetheist. Around them ‘edgey’ American director Greg Mottola (Superbad) gives it that up-scale Hollywood feel.
The movie stands or falls on the character of Paul, voiced by archetypal slacker actor Seth Rogen. I’m no fan of his or his oevre. His diminutive alien is lazy, cynical, foul-mouthed and far too street-wise to be believable. The voice doesn’t suit the visuals and that contrast isn’t of itself funny. Some of his dialog just doesn’t stand up. The extensive CGI rendering of the character, though, is well done (Pegg revealed a huge chunk of the budget went on the effects), with only a couple of ropey green-screen shots.
Broader and thanks to it’s US setting, more accessible than their other movies, a common complaint in the early lukewarm reviews for Paul was that the movie isn’t funny enough. This is a little unfair. The film is full of blatant pop-culture and fan-boy references like all their earlier works and the geeks in the audience will get several extra layers of gags. If you’re steeped in 80’s movies and sci-fi in particular, this is a joy. I spent the entire film chuckling and calling out references to movies, TV shows and comics of which my young lady had no knowledge. Much of it is in homage to Spielberg, John Landis and Robert Zemeckis.
The climax plays out exactly as expected, with few twists or surprises – Pegg and Frost play to their mainstream audience and deliver with style if not originality. I laughed much more than I expected and the one hour forty running time zipped by. RC
Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Running Time, 1 hr. 40 min.
Genre: Art House & International, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy
Released: Feb 14, 2011 WideCast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, Bill Hador, Blythe Danner, Jeffrey Tambor, David Koechner