15 February 2011

Movie Review: Paul


2011, 104mins, 15
Director: Greg Mottola
Writer (s): Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Cast includes: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch
UK Release Date: 14th February 2011

I used to be all for geeks inheriting the Earth, but if that means more films like “Paul” then maybe now I’m not so sure. Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (also the film’s stars), “Paul” is an overindulgent and only sporadically amusing sci-fi farce, undone thanks to a lackluster screenplay and some problematic pacing issues. There’s definitely a better film wrestling to get out, but in its current uninspired incarnation “Paul” is disappointing.

Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Nick Frost (Clive Golings) are two super nerds on the adventure of a lifetime. Having already visited the San Diego Comic-Con, they embark on a road trip to check out the USA’s prominent UFO attractions, enjoying the country’s delightful scenery in the process. Whilst driving their RV late at night the pair accidentally stumble across Paul (voiced by a game Seth Rogen), an alien running from the law. Initially shocked, Graeme and Clive eventually agree to help the extraterrestrial stowaway, Paul’s goal being to reach an appropriate destination for a rendezvous with his own people. The quirky group also ends up collecting another member, a repressed Christian named Ruth (Kristen Wiig), forcibly taking her hostage after she unwittingly finds out about Paul. As the protagonists race up the country they are pursued by a team of FBI agents (including a deliciously dry Jason Bateman) and Ruth’s enraged father (John Carroll Lynch).

“Paul” is totally unmemorable. The invention of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” is completely absent, everything from the storytelling to the characters hitting a duff note. If it weren’t for the eclectic supporting cast then “Paul” would be virtually worthless; Pegg and Frost simultaneously failing to impress as either writers or actors here. One would also expect a keener sense of comedic assurance from “Superbad” director Greg Mottola (although he did last helm 2009’s vastly overrated “Adventureland”), but he too appears largely oblivious to the project’s blatant mediocrity.

Frost and Pegg rehearse the same bromantic shtick we’ve seen them utilize before, the film reaching dizzying new heights for unfunny gay jokes. Both are extremely colorless in “Paul”, the absurdist energy of their previous performances substituted in favor of bland idiocy. Even their chemistry feels forced, and that’s a criticism I never thought I’d be leveling at the movie. Rogen certainly brings plenty of enthusiasm and his trademark riffing earns a few laughs, but his determination can’t compensate for Pegg and Frost’s flaccid efforts. The character of Paul is rendered fully by CGI, the digitals holding up well throughout the production. In terms of appearance Frost and Pegg endow their title character with a very classical look, honoring the science fiction imagery of old in the process.

The amount of geeky references and in-jokes featured is ludicrous, most of which are irritating rather than hysterical. Simply rehashing a sequence from “Star Wars” isn’t funny, nor are random nods to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Star Trek”. There’s a splendid “Mac and Me” moment, but that aside none of the masturbatory fan service on show really works. The broader and less exclusive humor definitely operates more effectively, albeit even it’s pretty patchy. It’s hard not to giggle when one of the movie’s key plot mechanisms is a pair of urine stained jeans, but similarly you can only hear so many dick jokes before they grow wearisome. “Paul” provides a few chuckles, but probably more in the way of sighs and groans.

The storyline is formulaic and dull, a problem exacerbated thanks to an uneven pace. Mottola’s previous works have all been relatively beefy (at 113 minutes “Superbad” must be one of the longest sex romps committed to celluloid”), but “Paul” easily feels like the most unnecessarily drawn out. It’s just a basic road trip adventure, one that would have been slicker at 80 minutes rather than the 104 it actually lasts for. By the time “Paul” reaches its obvious conclusion I was gagging for the picture to end, but even the movie’s finale is strung out to a ridiculous degree. Most of the subplots tossed in aren’t effective either, particularly the arc that focuses on a burgeoning romance between Pegg and Wiig. It’s thoroughly boring stuff.

Kristen Wiig does the best she can with a limited character, whilst around her other notable comedians (including Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and Joe Lo Truglio) are only afforded sparse opportunities to impress. Of course Sigourney Weaver also has to make an obligatory cameo (LOL, it’s funny because she’s done lots of movies about aliens), the actress looking as tired as audience members will likely be feeling. Jason Bateman on the other hand is hysterical as the quiet and threatening Agent Zoil, throwing out some sublime barbs and using his stern expression to delightful effect. He easily provides the picture’s sharpest performance.

“Paul” lacks atmosphere or personality; it’s a pallid and underwhelming motion picture. The fanboys for whom it is squarely aimed at will probably lap it up, after all nothing sates ignorant dweebs like the ability to laugh at something no one else gets, or watch one of their own kind score with an SNL superstar. However for those of us who prefer are comedies funny and are filmmakers creative, “Paul” is a decidedly less than stellar offering.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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