What you will make of ‘Paul’, the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost sci-fi film really depends on how you view it. If you go in expecting the third part in the ‘Blood and Ice Cream’ trilogy (‘Shaun of the Dead’ & ‘Hot Fuzz’ being the first two parts), you are likely to be disappointed, ‘Paul’ lacks the distinctly British feel of the other two and that does affect the kind of jokes involved. However watch it expecting a film full of Pegg and Frost’s typical sense of humour mixed with the style of Rogen and Wiig then you are much more likely to see ‘Paul’ for what it is, and that’s a damn funny film.
‘Paul’ offers Pegg and Frost to fully let loose their inner geeks, the film starts at comic-con and involves aliens, Area 51 and several discussions about probing. It’s the story two British comic book geeks, Clive Gollings (Frost) and Graeme Willy (Pegg), who set off from comic-con in San Diego intending to visit a number of the most famous extraterrestrial sites in the U.S but who find their trip interrupted by a seriously close encounter with a Seth Rogen voiced alien called Paul.
The film is packed with references to all things alien, both real world conspiracy theories and the sci-fi of films and television and though you definitely don’t need to be a geek to enjoy this film, if you are one, you’ll be laughing more often at all the little touches; a personal favourite of mine being the choice of actress for one particular cameo, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen the film yet.
The whole cast is superb, starting with the central duo, but also including Jason Bateman as a shady men-in-black-esque government agent and the always delightful Kristen Wiig as a creationist Christian thrown completely outside of her comfort zone by the events of the film; there is a scene involving her experimenting with swear words which rivals the equivalent moment in ‘The King’s Speech’ for proving that if the actor is charismatic enough, swear words can still be funny in their own right. Thanks to some really strong animation Paul never seems out of place and Rogen’s voice perfectly fits with the character; despite being a skinny grey alien, Paul is also unmistakably Rogen in so many ways.
‘Paul’ also works as a road movie, full of stunning American scenery and eccentric examples of national stereotypes, where the characters learn things about themselves and each other as they travel around, but it knows just when to throw in a crude gag or bit of slapstick to ensure the tone never becomes too twee.
It will never win awards for being the cleverest comedy in the world, but it is a really enjoyable, wonderfully geeky and joyously idiotic film full of engaging characters and tongue in cheek references.
What lets it down ever so slightly is that the heart of the film, Pegg and Frost, just aren’t quite as likeable, or for large chunks as funny, as they are in ‘Shaun’ or ‘Hot Fuzz’. There is almost a hint of them trying too hard and I wonder if perhaps that is the result of ‘Paul’ being directed by Greg Mottola rather than their friend and usual director Edgar Wright; this isn’t a criticism of Mottola who does a great job, merely Wright knows exactly how to get the most out of the pair and that certain little spark to the writing and acting is missing here.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if ‘Paul’ ends up actually being more popular over in America than the previously mentioned pair of films, the reference points are American and the jokes are aimed at them, so it is only natural that I, despite enjoying the film a lot, feel like it merely wetted my appetite for part three in their own trilogy.