Monday, August 15, 2011

Paul – Pegg and Frost meet E.T., as played by Seth Rogen.

I'll start with a declaration of bias with regard to the movie I want to talk about today. I'm personally a huge fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the projects they've collaborated on before (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) are favorites of mine, and unless this is your first visit to the site, you know how much I love comic books and science fiction. So, Paul is a movie that was made with someone very much like me in mind. The degree to which they'd have had to screw this movie up for me not to like it is profound, as I was on board from the moment I heard the concept. I finally got around to seeing it this past weekend, and I can only say that my expectations were exceeded in every way. In the long run, it may not have the timeless quality of Shaun of the Dead, but for first time viewing, I think I enjoyed myself more seeing this than I did the first time round with the British Zombie comedy that made Pegg and Frost household names.

I heard a lot about this before it came out, but it didn't seem to stay in theaters very long.

The setup is so simple that it is amazing that it took so long for someone to make this film. (For all I know, there could be an obscure indie flick out there that is similar in concept, but if there is, I'm unaware.) Two mega-nerds from England go on holiday to San Diego Comic Con as the payoff of a lifelong dream. Clive Gollings (Frost) is a frustrated science fiction writer who had minor success as a teenager but has remained unpublished since. Graeme Willy (Pegg) is his best friend and partner, a talented illustrator who creates images to go with his friend's words that are good enough that the book covers alone should sell a pile of copies, that it, if Clive ever finishes his magnum opus. The friends have an incredible geeky time at Comic Con, and plan to follow it up with a tour of the UFO hotspots of the American Southwest.

The setup and establishment of the pair as likeable characters is necessary for what comes later to happen to characters who are more than just cardboard cutouts (treatment that the rest of the cast doesn't get,) but I'll grant nit-pickers that this first 30 or so minutes almost feels like it belongs in a separate film, as the pacing and storytelling are different from the rest of the movie. Along the road, the guys run into a geek-friendly diner owner (played by Glee's Jane Lynch) and a pair of stock idiot rednecks who immediately take a dislike to the British Geeks. Right after this, the movie takes off, picking up the main plot as the guys drive to the Black Mailbox in Nevada in their rented Winnebago and a pair of headlights is bearing down on them. Fearing that it is the rednecks come to beat them up, they get on the road and are quickly surprised when the lights belong to a car that suddenly flips off the road.

Slackers in a zombie apocalypse, Cops in a police action/comedy/murder mystery,
and now nerds in a Winnebago. These guys are great.

Clive and Graeme investigate, and the driver of the car steps out of the night, unharmed... he is a genuine alien, escaped from a military base. Clive faints, and the alien, named Paul, convinces Graeme to help him out before the people after him turn up to recapture him. Paul is a brilliant piece of natural-looking CGI, well animated and voiced by Seth Rogen. As for Paul's personality, well, if you are familiar with virtually any of the characters Rogen's played before, you know about what to expect from Paul. In this case, that isn't really a complaint, as the charismatic low-key slacker type is a cool contrast to the Frost and Pegg buddy comedy, and he fits into the dynamic well. If it works in making a film entertaining, I won't hold Seth Rogen's typecasting against him.

Cue the cross country buddy comedy flight from the government agents after Paul, led by the serious Agent Zoil played by Jason Bateman with his usual talent for playing quirky characters. Zoil has two new agents (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) with him who are kept in the dark and sort of goofy on their own... one of them is even a comic book geek himself. The trio work through Paul's backstory, bond a little bit, and then meet a nice girl raised in an extreme religious household who immediately catches Graeme's eye. Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a one-eyed Bible thumping Daddy's Girl, is abducted by the guys when Paul reveals himself to her in the midst of an argument about science and religion conducted through the Winnebago's bathroom door. Eventually winning Ruth over, the group continues north with their pursuers, who now include Ruth's gun and Bible-toting father.
Jason Bateman isn't the only Arrested Development alum to appear in this film, but he has the biggest role.

The film frequently makes clever references to various specific scenes from popular science fiction films and programs, and settles down as an action-comedy that feels exactly like a comedy that is somewhere between one of Rogen's films and one by Pegg and Frost should. Paul breaks one of the cardinal rules of the “alien on the run” film constantly, not seeming to care much if people see him, as he plans to be gone soon, and after all, who'd believe the stories anyway? The supporting characters are entertaining in their roles, including Agent Zoil's boss whose voice is heard over the phone throughout the film, and whose identity is supposed to be a big cameo reveal at the end, but clever sci-fi fans will recognize the voice right away. The pacing of the movie is a little awkward and unwieldy in spots, but it is so much fun that I didn't care.

By the time the movie was over, I'd laughed quite a bit, appreciated the development of the various characters, recurring gags and saw the plot through to its fairly predictable end. There were perhaps a few too many supporting characters for all of them to get their due, and I did frown a bit here and there at how heavy-handed the “Religious people are idiots” bit got played, but overall, this is a movie I not only liked quite a bit, but will probably even go out of my way to watch again. Anyone who is a fan of any of the principal actors will probably like this a lot, as it is more clever than a typical Rogen film and less dry than the other Pegg and Frost comedies. Whether that is an improvement or not on those individual styles of comedy or not is a matter of personal taste.
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The Happy Whisk said...

I can't read this review because I still haven't seen this and Pegg is one of my favorite actors. And Seth is just a cutie.

Jay said...

i've always avoided this because of the cartoon alien, but you've convinced me to give it a try. :)

Erika said...

This movie was hilarious. A lot better than I expected actually. Great review!! Spot on.

Alpha said...

Good to see Frost & Pegg haven't lost their touch.

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