I’d mention my long-ish absence from this blog, but you bastards probably didn’t even notice I was gone. Well, I was. However, I’ve decided I should write some more reviews lest my writing become stale and unimaginative. So let’s have a look at Paul, you…er…bastards.
Those walking into Paul expecting another Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz are going to be disappointed. Just thought I’d get that out of the way. For starters, it’s not the third film in the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy as it’s written by Pegg and Frost rather than Pegg and Edgar Wright. Secondly, whilst there’s plenty of nerdery in Paul, it’s definitely more mainstream and accessible than either Shaun or Fuzz.
“Three tits. Awesome.”
The basic story goes thusly: two British nerds, illustrator Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and “the writer” Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are trekking across the USA in an RV. After making a pilgrimage to Comic-Con, the pair start visiting UFO hotspots. Along the way, they bump into an actual alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who needs help with a matter of life and death. The duo then become a trio as they try and help Paul duck his persuers led by a leader known as “The Big Guy” and their right-hand man Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman). The plot is familiar, but not overly so. I can’t think of the last road movie to have an alien in a starring role. We’ve seen that the duo of Pegg and Frost simply works countless times now, so their interplay and chemistry doesn’t really score any points any more. I was pleasantly surprised as how well Paul was realised, with Seth Rogen putting in a decent comedic performance and being brought to life with some genuinely impressive CGI. I liked Kristen Wiig’s “God bothering cyclops” too. The supporting cast are a mish-mash of other big name comedians you’ve seen in fucking everything. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe LaTruglio and Jane Lynch all make an appearance. Although I like them, I really am getting sick of them being in every Universal comedy going.
I did find Paul to be quite funny. The dialogue is usually snappy and there are some choice one-liners to keep you chuckling after you walk out of the cinema. If a comedy makes you laugh more than a handful of times, it can be judged a success in my book. However, this humour is a lot more “standard” than that found in Pegg and Frost’s back catalogue. It’s disappointing to sit there and feel like there’s something missing. The jokes aren’t bad or anything, they just don’t feel that new. I suspect the reason for this standardisation is the fact that Paul cost over 5 times what Shaun of the Dead did. You just can’t be niche when you’re dealing with 8 digit budgets.
There are some decent ideas in the film though. As one of those pesky athiests you read so much about, I really appreciated Ruth’s change in religious standpoint after meeting Paul. After getting a feel of the film’s broader (American) audience pleasing tone, I was genuinely surprised to see a character not only have a crisis of faith, but to lose all religious sensibilities completely. I also loved the idea that Paul is not only responsible for some of pop culture’s biggest hits such as E.T. and the X-Files, but the reason why we think of aliens as little green/grey creatures with big heads.
Having commented on the lack of niche appeal let me appear go back on myself by pointing out that there are a lot of pop culture references. Since the geeks inherited the Earth several years ago (there was a flyer and everything) I don’t count film references as niche any more. If standard cookie-cutter, crowd pleasing, money-in-the-bank snorecoms like The Other Guys can mention the Death Star without people being left scratching their heads, then it’s not niche. It’s just another standard joke type that Hollywood will run into the ground. That mini-rant may clue you in on my other big problem with Paul- it spends way too much time sucking off George Lucas and Steven Speilberg. I don’t mind homages if they’re done well, come from a place of genuine admiration and are used sparingly, nor do I mind the appreciation of Spielbeard and Luca$. What I do mind is the constant tips of the hat to their work. Paul contains so many nods and winks to Star Wars that if it was a person I’d be scared they were having some kind of seizure. There are obvious ones, such as Graeme’s Empire Strikes Back T-Shirt, but the film goes several steps further, having musical cues, lines of dialogue and famous shots all from that damned trilogy. I love Star Wars, but even I thought it was too much.
“There is an alien in our kitchenette making bagels and coffee.”
Paul is pretty good, but don’t be expecting more endlessly quotable lines and dark humour from the Pegg/Frost combo. It’s entertaining and really funny at times, but I expected more from it to be honest. That whole Star Wars thing I mentioned above really took me out of the film, but the non mega-nerds amongst you may not have the same problem with it that I did. It’s worth a watch, but it’s not an essential viewing.