Director Greg Mottola has a decent comedy pedigree, having scored big hits with the outright laughs of Superbad and the nostalgic treat that Adventureland ended up being. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost? Their comedy pedigree has gone from strength to strength since their days working on “Spaced”, the great movie magic of Shaun Of The Dead and then the brilliance of Hot Fuzz. And Seth Rogen may not appeal to everyone but he does his own, foul-mouthed slacker schtick fantastically well. Which all adds up to a good start for Paul, a movie directed by Mottola and starring Pegg and Frost as two sci-fi nerds who end up taking a fugitive alien (voiced by Rogen) on board their RV while they drive across America. And considering that Pegg and Frost also wrote the script you would expect the sci-fi nods and references to come thick and fast. So does the movie live up to its potential.
In a word . . . . . no. Paul is still a very good movie, hugely entertaining and one I am looking forward to rewatching in the future, but it’s not up there with the best work of any of the star players.
Pegg and Frost are as likeable as ever onscreen but, this time around, their chemistry seems to have been held slightly in check. Perhaps this was to leave room for the hugely charismatic CG-alien star, I’m not sure, but it still leaves the banter between the two lacking when compared to their other onscreen outings together. Kristen Wiig is a lot of fun as a religious, constricted woman who gets caught up in the proceedings and has her eyes opened. And then, of course, we have the main star and what a fine creation he is. Rogen does great with the voice, interspersing some great one-liners with some of his usual crudity, but it’s the computer programmers who deserve a tip of the hat here. The special effect feels very real, despite the relative absurdity of the whole concept, and that’s a huge relief, what with the whole film focusing on his attempt to escape our planet and the movie being named after him and everything.
One of the other main players is Jason Bateman, who does a great line in cool badassery (which is a proper word now that I have just made it up) as the main government agent chasing after the alien. Bill Hader gets to be as goofy as usual but follows Bateman’s badass approach in the second half of the movie and also does surprisingly well in that vein. With the cast also including Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor, Blythe Danner, Sigourney Weaver, John Carroll Lynch and Joe Lo Truglio there’s usually no more than a minute or so in between seeing a well-liked face appearing.
Paul is a good movie, it’s a lot of fun but it’s just a shame that all of those actors and that potential isn’t fulfilled. There are many great gag and in-jokes but also room for a hundred more, or so I would seem. I know that it’s unfair to compare this movie to the Pegg-Frost movies directed by Edgar Wright but it’s inevitable. The boys have created a weight of expectation due to the quality and quantity of laughs created whenever they have been the two lead actors. The gags and references range from the obvious (the Aliens quote used on Sigourney Weaver’s character, the “boring conversation anyway” reaction from Bateman as he shoots his car comms system, etc) to the far-too-familiar (Wiig’s character revelling in her new-found love of profanity and freedom just feels like something we’ve seen and heard numerous times before) to the sneakily superb (a saloon-style musical rendition of the cantina band tune from Star Wars . . . . . . a small, priceless moment that I was surprised to find myself being the only one laughing out loud at in the cinema). Sadly, they’re usually good without being great. The whole series of set-ups and pay-offs never feel as tightly and cleverly constructed as recent glories and the movie can’t get over that hurdle, though it’s still ahead of many, many other middling mainstream comedies from the past year or so.
Greg Mottola directs with a decidedly relaxed attitude, only pulling out all of the stops and getting more energy injected into things during a final reel that’s full of the expected chase sequences and danger. In fact, it’s worth noting that one of the most effective scenes in the movie isn’t all that comedic at all. A moment with Paul revisiting the first human he ever came into contact with many years ago is played just perfectly; emotional but not manipulative, magical but forced to remember the surrounding reality, fantastical but also very real. Perhaps that’s the main thing to remember, the film has all of its crudity and nerd power but it also has a lot of heart.
Do go and see Paul if you like the stars, and by stars I mean those involved onscreen as well as Star Wars, Starman and all other close encounters of the cinematic kind. But don’t go to see Paul if you’re expecting “Spaced: Some Motherships Do ‘Ave ‘Em” or some other pun-tastic title I can conjure up.
DIRECTOR: GREGG MOTTOLA
STARS: SIMON PEGG, NICK FROST, SETH ROGEN, KRISTEN WIIG, JASON BATEMAN, BILL HADER, SIGOURNEY WEAVER
RUNTIME: 104 MINS APPROX