PLOT: Two British fanboys (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost) visiting the US for Comic-Con, encounter an alien named Paul (voice of Seth Rogen) on the run from a government agent (Jason Bateman) and his two bumbling sidekicks (Bill Hader & Joe Lo Truglio). Along the way, they're forced to kidnap a shy, sheltered Christian lady (Kristen Wiig) while being pursued by her shotgun-toting father (John Carroll Lynch).
REVIEW: Before I even try to get critical on PAUL, I gotta admit something. I'm a HUGE fan of both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. SPACED was genius, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is one of my ten favourite films of the last decade, and HOT FUZZ was probably in my top twenty. PAUL is their first American film, but more importantly, it's their first flick without the great Edgar Wright behind the camera. Instead, PAUL is directed by Greg Mottola, who- in addition to SUPERBAD, also directed the criminally under-seen ADVENTURELAND.
Is PAUL as good as their work with Wright? Understandably no, not by a long shot. There's something really special going on whenever those three are paired, and without Wright, a vital piece of the magic is missing. Without him PAUL can't possibly measure up to those other films, but that's not to say PAUL isn't a good film.
Mottola makes a perfectly acceptable substitute for Wright, with PAUL being much more of a straight-up comedy than SHAUN or FUZZ, both of which played with genre a little more, and had moments that were meant to be taken seriously. PAUL is slapstick, but luckily it's very funny. Of course, it helps if you're something of a fanboy, as this is a film that was manufactured for that audience if ever there was one.
Luckily, I was fully in-tune with my inner fanboy while sitting down to watch PAUL, and I had a blast throughout. The chemistry between Pegg and Frost- best friends both on and off screen, shines through as strongly as it ever has. I liked the whole idea of these sheltered English fanboys embarking on a geek-fueled road trip through America, and adding the always delightful Kristen Wiig to the ensemble was an inspired choice.
The thing I've always liked about Wiig is the sweetness she brings to each role, which works well with Pegg and Frost as they possess the same quality. She's the perfect foil for Pegg and Frost. Her character actually gets a great arc, with her starting off as a shy and sweet sheltered Christian gal, and evolving into a more open-minded, confident woman through her adventures with the lads. This keeps her from feeling like a cartoon, and it's a nice touch.
As for the titular PAUL, as voiced by Seth Rogen, this was the one aspect of the film I really thought I'd have a hard time getting past. I like Rogen, but he's such a distinct comic personality that I was afraid he would overwhelm Pegg and Frost, or somehow not mess well with their somewhat more genteel humour. I shouldn't have worried, as Rogen actually does a really good job as the pot-smoking, slacker alien (I know- BIG stretch), who, it turns out, has a heart of gold. I was also afraid the CGI might come off as cheesy, but to my eyes- PAUL looked pretty damn real, so no problems in that area.
The supporting cast is a lot of fun, with Jason Bateman having a great role as Agent Lorenzo Zoil (say it out loud), and Sigourney Weaver hamming it up as his evil superior. Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio are also on board as Bateman's cartoonish henchman, that go through all manner of hell while chasing our heroes, with them almost becoming the live-action equivalent of Wile E. Coyote is some of the cartoonish action scenes.
Where SHAUN OF THE DEAD took on horror, and HOT FUZZ took the piss out of Jerry Bruckheimer/Joel Silver action flicks, PAUL is a loving spoof/homage to the early films of Steven Spielberg- particularly CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T, and a bit of THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS thrown in for good measure (not to mention DUEL- which gets a few shout-outs). Every possible Spielberg reference is made, from the early Douglas Slocombe style lighting in some scenes, to the David Arnold score that riffs on John Williams. Of course, given the sci-fi setting, there's also more STAR WARS references than you can shake a lightsaber at, and some X-FILES jokes- which, it turns out, was the brainchild of our alien hero.
We also get a little SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT thrown in, with the heroes being pursued by a couple of good-ol'boys, one of whom is played by David Koechner, although, I thought they were a tad extraneous, as was Lynch's role as Wiig's bible and shotgun toting father.
While it's true that PAUL isn't operating on the same level as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ or even SPACED at it's best, it's still a lot of fun, and a very pleasant way to kill 100 minutes. As for Pegg and Frost- I hope they're still making movies together when they're ninety, and the thought of a third Pegg-Frost-Wright collaboration on the horizon makes me giddy. Until then, this will more than make due.