WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Two British sci-fi geeks, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are making a road-trip across the US, taking in sites familiar to UFO-fans, including Area 51 and Roswell.
No amount of study, preparation or hope can prepare them for the close encounter of the third kind they have when a three-foot tall big-headed little-green-man, Paul (Seth Rogen) escapes from a government facility and hitches a ride in their RV.
Graeme takes to their unexpected guest more readily than a more cynical Clive, but they agree to help their wise-cracking, fast-talking hitch-hiker rendez-vous with the space-ship that will finally take him home, decades after he first arrived on earth and kidnapped a young girl’s dog.
With police (Bill Hader) and the FBI (Jason Bateman) on their tail, and a one-eyed evangelical farmer’s daughter (Wiig) they pick up on the way trying to reconcile the existence of an extra-terrestrial with her christian upbringing, the pair’s trip-of-a-lifetime turns out to be rather more of an adventure than they could have dreamed of.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Real-life best friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose on-screen chemistry has blossomed from TV’s Spaced to the big screen’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have become one of British cinema’s most hotly anticipated double-act. But the one other common denominator in those productions was director and co-writer Edgar Wright.
Without Wright’s comic precision and self-mocking sense of bitter irony, Paul entertains, but fails to live up to the high expectations it sets itself. Pegg and Frost’s writing successfully and lovingly parodies every sci-fi hits from Close Encounters to ET, Alien and Back to the Future, but it feels more like a string of knowing sketches, than any kind of structured narrative with anything profound or clever to say. It’s a satire with no bite.
A simple, linear storyline, peopled by obvious caricatures follows a contrived but predictable path that isn’t out of place among the more low-brow American road-movies.
The CGI work on Paul and Rogen’s apparently free-form voice-work are fun and Greg Mottola brings a sense of urgency to the direction that’s at least in the same ballpark, if not in the same league, as his earlier Superbad.
Pegg and Frost – as fish out of water in the US – don’t feel as real as they have done in their earlier outings, although some delightful comic moments come out of nowhere as a pleasant surprise, rather than the fast-paced norm.
Graeme and Clive are just too nice as characters – and nice means too little conflict and nothing to challenge their audience – we have no choice but to just sit and enjoy the ride, rather than think about where we’re going. Perhaps they were pulling their punches, treading on egg-shells, not wanting to go too far in mocking the sci-fi nerds who will also form the core of their audience.
Cameos from Jeffrey Tambor and Sigourney Weaver add to the humour – but also add to the sense that this collection of comic confection is more down to earth than out of this world.
It’s a thoroughly entertaining disappointment – not so much a wasted opportunity, as a decision to try something different that doesn’t quite pay off. Pegg + Frost – Wright may well make more money than their previous films by targeting a more mainstream audience, but it’ll leave admirers of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and indeed Superbad feeling bereft of wit and originality.
Paul – along with Edgar Wright’s recent Scott Pilgrim – while enjoyable on their own terms make you want to shout “Let’s get the band back together” and unite a team that produces British comedy gold when together and comedy bronze when they are working apart.
But at least Paul still makes it onto the podium.