Paul Review [SXSW 2011]
A sort of comedy homage to seminal sci-fi movie culture from the 80s, Paul never takes itself too seriously. From the Brit comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this film feels a little too light but it’s a ton of fun anyway. In theatres everywhere on March 18th, Paul will provide plenty of laughs but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
Comic-book uber-nerds Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) have just been reveling in their weirdness at the San Diego Comic Con, and with their rented RV are determined to make a tour of America’s UFO hot spots like Area 51 and Roswell. With plenty of road trip humor, the duo inadvertently picks up a “naturalized” alien named Paul (voice by Seth Rogen). Paul has been trapped at a top-secret government facility for decades, and has finally escaped with the intention of returning home. Graeme and Clive are pulled into the adventure of a lifetime, as they find themselves pissing off rednecks and Christian fundamentalists and secret government officials, and before long it seems like everyone is chasing them down.
In the style of some of the other collaborations from Pegg/Frost like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul seems less like a fresh movie idea and more like a tongue-in-cheek homage of other ground-breaking movies. It suffers from feeling like a hodgepodge of the very films it’s referencing. But that same weakness is probably why so many sci-fi geeks will simply revel in the self-awareness of it.
The look of the film is like peering into a geek‘s den of nerdiness. If you came upon a geek unaware, you might find his habitat disorderly, his person disheveled, and little collectible figurines of Boba Fett peppering his domicile. Since nerdy sci-fi pals Graeme and Clive basically live in their RV, you can practically breathe in that funky corn chips smell.
Not only does this film star comic heavy-weights Pegg, Frost and Rogen, but it boasts a riotous cast which includes Jane Lynch (Glee), Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Kristen Wiig and Jeffrey Tambor. Greg Mottola (Superbad) directed the script penned by Pegg and Frost. He’s no stranger to comedies, and the movie does pack in a lot of laughs.
I had this kind of “eh” reaction to the character of Paul. I mean he’s a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed alien who is more culturally relevant than the guys he hitches a ride with, but with all the fart jokes and weed smoking he seems more like a caricature then a viable character.
Also, the CGI turned me off. I understand that the filmmakers thought CGI would work best for this character, but it was hard to stay inside the world of the film when the alien effects looked so…well, alien. On top of that, Rogen’s voice didn’t sell the character for me. I think the fact that Rogen’s voice is pretty well-known now (especially among the comedy-loving demographic that will be seeing this film in droves), that it took away from the character of Paul. Instead of Paul, an alien smart-ass, it was Rogen being himself doing an impression of an alien smart-ass.
Pegg and Frost live up to their well-earned reps. They provide plenty of the laughs, and the dynamic between them is as successful as ever. Their real-life friendship no doubt helps with the onscreen chemistry. This film is perhaps fluffier than some of their other films, in that beyond the simple premise it’s basically an hour and a half of cultural references/jokes and silly travel comedy hi-jinx.
Bateman played the straight G-man with impeccable comedic timing, as we would expect from him. His character is constantly running in circles chasing down the geeky duo and taking orders from a shadowy superior simply called The Big Guy (played in a great meta role by Weaver). Other supporting roles were strong as well and provided more than a few laughs.
All that being said, this is a fun film. And if you’re not expecting anything very original or with any kind of depth, it’s entertaining enough.
A sort of comedy homage to seminal sci-fi movie culture from the 80s, Paul never takes itself too seriously and is a lot of fun.