Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have starred in two of the best genre-busting comedies of the previous decade; Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This time they reunite to try to have a go at a science-fiction film and conquering the US market.
Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are two British geeks who, after attending the San Diego Comic Con, set out on a road trip in a trailer to famous UFO spots around America. They chance upon an alien called Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and find themselves on the run from a bunch of government agents out to apprehend Paul.
SF geeks could have a spot-the-movie-reference game while watching Paul. The film is littered with Star Wars, E.T (of course), Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Back to the Future references, and director Steven Spielberg even lends his voice for a brief cameo. Someone who hasn’t been exposed to these films might probably wonder what’s going on, but it’s likely they won’t be the target audience.
When Pegg and Frost have the floor, the film has the most fun. Things go awry, however, after Paul the alien comes into the picture. No doubt the CGI animating him is great, but beside his mystical powers, Paul is a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, wisecracking guy who wears bermudas. Pegg and Frost might as well have picked up a California surfer.
Director Greg Mottola, who worked on the comedy Superbad and the underrated Adventureland, doesn’t inject much flair into the film, but at least keeps Rogen from running off with the picture.
The gags are hardly interstellar. Most of them revolve around Graeme and Clive’s sexual orientation, anal probes, Paul’s genitalia size and the nudge-nudge-wink-wink SF movie references. Compared to the wild fun that Pegg and Frost have come up with for their previous comedies, the gags here are pretty tame and safe in comparison.
The same goes for the plot. It stays within expectations, coming across as an NC-16 version of ET, and everything turns out treacly sweet at the end.
There are some great supporting performances, such as Jason Bateman as Agent Zoil, who’s hunting down Paul. Jane Lynch of Glee has a bit part, and shines even in the few minutes she has.
For all its problems, Paul is propped up the solid amount of talent in the film, and Pegg and Frost keep things from becoming too safe and sane. In comparison to what the British comedy duo are capable of, as seen in the classic Shaun of the Dead which subverted and tore apart genre clichés, Paul isn’t anywhere as inventive. It’s still often fun, especially if you’re a fan of science fiction films, but the film is as bland as its title.