Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Release Review: Paul (Greg Mottola, 2011)

Paul is the new comedy film that re-unites the writing duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), this time with director Greg Mottola (Superbad and Adventureland) and fellow star Seth Rogen (Knocked Up and Pineapple Express). While this is not the third film in the Pegg/Frost 'Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy' as many have expected it to be, one can still expect Paul to be a wild ride riddled with zany characters, satirical cultural references and crude gags. Paul is one entertaining film. While it's not destined to be an instant classic, it delivers consistent uproarious laughs and stands as the best comedy of the year so far.

Paul is a science fiction adventure comedy which follows best friends Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), two comic book nerds from the U.K who have travelled to America to attend the annual San Diego Comic-Con Convention. Having already had the time of their life mingling with their 'kind' they decide that there is no better way to further enhance their American dream adventure than to hire an RV and embark on a road trip across the country and visit all the extraterrestrial hot spots. Their beyond-brotherly closeness raises some prejudicial conflict in a bar and the pair fear they are being pursued by hillbillies they may have angered, only to watch the speeding car overtake them, crash and roll off the highway. On investigation of the wreckage, Graeme meets and befriends Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an extraterrestrial who has escaped from Area 51 and desperately needs their help.

Although stunned by the appearance of such an unlikely companion, Graeme is eagerly willing to accept Paul to the party. When Clive wakes up (he had fainted from the sight) he is not so taken with Paul and Greame's bond, a pressure that strains their friendship for the rest of the film. Paul immediately makes himself at home, unhinging his vile, crass and uninhibited personality which he discovers is just as alien to the nervy, socially-inept travellers as his appearance. Paul reveals that he had originally been captured by the Government and used as an advisor for all manner of sociological achievements, notably his advice to Steven Spielberg on his science fiction filmmaking and his creation of Agent Mulder (X-Files). He corrects several misconceptions about extraterrestrials and explains that it was his appearance that influenced humanity's representation of his race as short, gangly green creatures with large heads.

When Paul's advisory status had worn out its welcome, the Government scheduled an operation that would result in the removal of his brain and a disarming of his extraordinary abilities. With the help of an unnamed friend of his, he managed to escape from Area 51, and directs the men to drive to a northern location, where he would rendezvous with his colleague and attempt to leave Earth. With a relentless and serious FBI Agent (Jason Bateman) and his two inept colleagues (Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio) hot on their trail, Graeme and Clive find themselves involved in a sporadic and chaotic pursuit across the country. Having to overcome a series of increasingly outrageous obstacles, including the forced kidnapping of a strict Creationist Christian (Kristen Wiig), a dodgy cowboy disguise and the obnoxious alien himself, there certainly are laughs aplenty as the pair are are embroiled in the fandom adventure of a lifetime. Both men face self-enlightenment and find themselves maturing in the face of love and responsibility.

There are some predictable recurring plot elements with most of the gags and characters introduced for little purpose but to return later and cause conflict. Most of the cameos are pretty funny, if diabolically outrageous and altogether incredible. Jason Bateman was certainly the best, but you will recognise Jeffrey Tambor and Jane Lynch amongst the cast. The plot manages to balance Pegg, Frost and Rogen at the centre bouncing exchanges off one another, while continuing to unveil their characters throughout. The technical wizardry that allows Paul to closely interact with the human characters, and endowed with Rogen's outstanding voice performance, Paul is a very memorable character. I have heard from many people that they are turned off by Rogen's casting as Paul, but I thought the gruff, stoner pitch was perfect. Rogen, despite his typecast status, is a great comic talent, and almost everything that comes out of his mouth here is gold. Paul was repulsive, immature and crass, but likeable, hilarious, inspirational and heartfelt at the same time. He picks up the two most unlikely colleagues to aid him in his quest, but he seems at ease knowing they have nothing to lose and enough crazy quirks to pull it off.

The film often preoccupies itself with swearing, smoking and crude humour more than elaborate generic references. The anal probe jokes, and having Pegg and Frost be constantly mistaken as a gay couple (huh?) seemed a little desperate, but the laughs are consistent and uproarious nevertheless. The early scenes stumbled and created few giggles, but following Paul's arrival, the jokes come on thick and fast. Pegg and Frost have found a niche where they make British humour accessible to American audiences. I thought the Government consultant and media and cultural influence angle of Paul's character was brilliant, while I'm sure that many recognised the soundtrack was littered with songs about extraterrestrial life. The references to science fiction classics we very prevalent. Pegg was wearing an Empire Strikes Back shirt throughout the film, the band in the bar were playing the music from the infamous bar scene in Star Wars and even Sigourney Weaver cops the brunt of her own famous line from Aliens. There are some humorous stabs at the Creationism versus Darwinism debate too.

With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz Pegg and Frost have managed to create hilarious post-modern works that drown themselves in generic cliches that succeed as very respectable cultural commentaries and parodies. Paul is arguably more accessible than these films to a wider audience. For example, if you haven't seen Dawn of the Dead than much of Shaun of the Dead will be lost on you. With Paul, it is a much broader target (the science-fiction genre, but specifically those dealing with Aliens) and the humour accommodates for this, relying more on comfortable slapstick and crude, colourful humour. With a surprisingly moving centre to this tale, a perfectly balanced extraterrestrial protagonist and an acute awareness by the filmmakers about what sort of comedy they are making (not trying to re-create E.T like they did Shaun of the Dead), this is a riot, and certainly the wide-release film to check out this week.

My Rating: 4 Stars (B)


  1. This is all kind-hearted fun, and although the humor isn't as sophisticated as other Frost and Penn films, I still found myself laughing enough at this film. Good Review Andy!

  2. Yeah, I agree. It was a more Rogen-esque sort of humour! While I personally prefer their work with Edgar Wright, I still thought this was a riot. It beat my expectations. Thanks Dan!