Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver
Director: Greg Mottola
Writer(s): Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
Original Score: David Arnold
Running Time: 104 Mins.
If you liked Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz…it doesn’t automatically mean you will like Paul, Simon Pegg’s latest big-screen opus, that is not to say Paul is a bad film by any means but rather it is nowhere near as clever or indeed funny as those previous efforts, though the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear I have a couple of sneaking suspicions why. For a start Paul does not represent the third of the “cornetto” trilogy, it is not directed or co-written by Edgar Wright who went off to try to break Hollywood on his own with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and ended up failing somewhat, it was a hit with critics but proved too left-field for US audiences. The reasons for that films financial failure are the exact same reasons why Paul likely will succeed…because it ultimately forsakes the unique, and it must be said somewhat British, edge of Shaun and Fuzz.
In losing Wright as co-scripter Pegg gains longtime friend and screen partner Frost, their best-buddy relationship comes across in spades though that may well be where the problems start, there is no conflict here, exhibiting the bromance elements that are so in vogue with the Apatow crew of late albeit toned right down. This is none more evident than in the opening sequence that sees Graham (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) embark upon a trip around the US that begins in Comic-Con. It could have been a setting ripe for some hilarious jokes/situations/characters, as it is the guys seem far to concerned with avoiding offending anyone, so what could have been a funny but affectionate look at geekdom becomes simply pedestrian, there are some jokes but they tread weak sitcom territory….something these guys are usually at pains to avoid, something that culminates with a weak hotel room joke about taking bromance a little too far.
Then, just as you begin to worry that this is a well and truly wasted opportunity Paul kicks into gear, largely thanks to the appearance of the titular alien, as Paul Seth Rogen gives his best turn in quite some time and is down-right hilarious as the smoking, cussing, rude, but also very sweet alien…the anti E.T. if you like. He sets up the much-needed friction between Graham and Clive and demonstrates that both men are the straight roles against Paul’s super funny turn. The comedy love is shared however with Jason Bateman and Bill Hader both superb as a couple of “men in black”, with numerous cameos, which are best kept secret, provide a couple of great in-jokes…
It is here that the film really hits its stride, as Shaun was a love-letter to zombie films and Fuzz the same to actioners, Paul proves a geeks dream when it comes to sci-fi, in fact the more of a geek you are you will garner so much more from the film. Every subtle reference to Close Encounters or The X-Files is balanced out with some outright sledge-hammer blows, sets are recognisable, voices play on other sci-fi films and even limes are lovingly ripped from other classics, it is quite frankly a sci-fi nerds wet dream!
Equally it is fair to say the less of a sci-fi fan you are the less you will take from the film in terms of references though there is still much to be enjoyed as a straight out comedy that melds the odd hint of that unique Pegg humour with a much broader American sensibility, obviously as a result of this sacrifices have been made meaning ultimately this is not anywhere near as funny as past efforts, though few comedies are, and Graham and Clive continue to remain the rather bland straight men throughout though one can’t help but feel this is intentional so we focus on everything else, and the titular alien (who must have cost a pretty penny!).
If Paul has another strength it is in hiring director Greg Mottola, Mottola gave us quite personal projects in Adventureland and Superbad but here shows he is equally capable at “hiring” himself out. The action scenes are handled with aplomb and many of the shots are fantastic in emulating their targets, E.T., Close Encounters etc. though more importantly the film has a feel of its own, making something that could have been a borderline spoof into a touching sci-fi comedy, with its tongue placed firmly in cheek.
After a slow and rather forgettable start Paul kicks into gear, ultimately pandering to sci-fi geeks there is still enough here to appeal to the masses, not a classic by any means but a solid comedy, even if Pegg and Frost have pandered to the US audiences at the cost of Shaun/Fuzz levels of laughs…and quality.