First the good news: Paul is the most entertaining comedy released in the last six months; written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it sees the duo reprise another version of their amiable bromance that’s been featured in all their collaborations with director Edgar Wright and is an entertaining Sci-Fi romp aimed at fans of the genre.
However as this is the first project the pair have made without their regular collaborator it inevitably bares comparison with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Spaced and in comparison to those projects, Paul is found wanting, as while this is a funny, undemanding SF road-movie it doesn’t at any point transcend the genres it simultaneously wants to be part of and lampoons to equal degrees.
Paul is the most entertaining comedy released in the last six months partially because the last six months have been pretty fallow with no other decent comedies released to meet the only above average standard of this film. However seven months ago, Edgar Wright released his first film made without Pegg and Frost, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World which was one of the finest films released in the last year and definitely the funniest. Suffice to say, Simon Pegg is only as good as his collaborators, so being directed here by Greg Mottola (Superbad), and surrounded by co-stars Sigourney Weaver and Jason Bateman, means in general the film is of a relatively high standard but Mottola never strives to make a film any better than the wastrel stoner schtick that he’s made a career from.
The film sees Pegg and Frost as a pair of SF / comic book fans travelling by camper van through Middle America following a trip to Comicon in San Diego. On the road they come across Paul, a four foot stereotypical grey alien who’s been held against his will in Area 51 for the past four decades and take him into their care. The film ambles across the American landscape with Jason Bateman on their trail as a ‘man in black’ under the orders of an off camera (until the final reel) Sigourney Weaver with a pair of hapless cops and a cosseted Christian girl they inadvertently kidnap, caught in the middle.
Pegg, Frost and Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan) have amusing misadventures on the road, off the road and in local towns with a huge number of SF references peppering the script and soundtrack (the funniest gag has a country and western band in a hick bar play the Cantina music from Star Wars). All the above guarantees a fair number of laughs per scene, but the problem is that you see 90% of the gags coming and expect far more from everyone involved who only have ended up making a film that is aimed at a generation that hasn’t really grown up. Indeed, if the film had less swearing and violence, it would have been a great kids movie.
The mini Arrested Development reunion this film also stands as – Bateman, a cameo by Jeffrey Tambor and director Mottola (who shot three episodes of the series) – reminds us that while it’s nice to watch an undemanding film that ticks many of the right boxes, like Pegg and Frost, everyone involved is capable of making comedy that is far more intelligent and sophisticated than what’s on offer here.
Perhaps lured by the attraction of the wide American open road (that inexorably leads to Close Encounters’ Devil’s Tower in Wyoming), Pegg and Frost were happy to dumb down their script for a US audience, which inevitably would have been sharpened by Wright if he’d directed this film, but occasionally this even leads to a sour note, such as the supposedly bisexual Paul’s casual homophobia when asking the pair about the nature of their relationship (something that is the stark opposite of having an endearing gay supporting character among the leads of Scott Pilgrim).
Overall, I can cautiously recommend the film – it’s at least the best comedy out at the cinema at the moment – but you’ll enjoy it more if you go in with lowered expectations…
You can hear a recording of the Paul press conference featuring Pegg, Frost, Weaver, Bateman, Mottola and more here…