Published on March 17th, 2011 | by jlschlarmann0
A Sci-Fi Comedy with Depth
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the team that brought us “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” have teamed up yet again for “Paul.” This time the two play Graeme Wily (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), two best friends on an adventure through America’s UFO-related hotspots. Along the way they encounter an alien voiced by Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”, “Funny People”, “The Green Hornet”), who is on the run from the U.S. Federal Government. Hot on their trails are Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development” , “Juno”) as Agent Zoil and two Federal Agent rookies played by Bill Hader (“Adventureland”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and Jo Lo Truglio (“Superbad”, “The State”).
The movie opens with our protagonists attending the San Diego Comic Con. It’s readily apparent that Frost and Pegg have had some experience at these events, as they treated both the artists and the fans with both honesty and respect with their dialogue. It’s also clear from the outset that the two have a genuine love and appreciation for Comic Con, as they did their best to highlight both the good and bad elements of the annual convention. Jeffrey Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show”) has a great turn as Adam Shadowchild, a comic-book creator that Graeme and Clive both idolize.
The action moves along quickly once the two leave the convention and set out on their RV road trip though the major UFO-haunts of the country’s southwest region. Jane Lynch (“Glee”, “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”) and David Koechner (“Anchorman”) have some funny dialogue in their turns as locals of a small New Mexico town. In these interactions, you can tell that Pegg and Frost view certain members of the population as possibly being a bit “hickish.” However it isn’t offensive in how they show the latent homophobia in the small town bullies.
It’s in their interaction with Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”, “MacGruber”) as Ruth Buggs, a devout born-again Christian that the audience sees some of the thematic undercurrent of the film come to the forefront. After all, the existence of an alien life form would challenge even the most staunchly faithful. The film states its beliefs on creationism versus evolution quite strongly, but never ventures into insulting those it may disagree with philosophically. It’s clear that Pegg and Frost are firm believers in the evolutionary explanation of life, but they make the point that no one in the universe has all the answers.
As is to be expected from this pairing, this film definitely pays homage in several places to the classic films of the genre. In fact, there’s no one better at writing original stories that pay homage to the films they’re inspired by. Any criticisms of the references could be some of them might be on the more obscure side and go over the heads of some viewers. This could have been Pegg and Frost’s intentions, however, so as not to hit the audience over the head with too many pop culture mentions.
Greg Mottola (“Adventureland”, “Superbad”) takes the helm as director for this film. It’s the first motion picture Pegg and Frost have done as a team without Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”). The differences are quite apparent from the outset. While Wright’s pacing tends to be full-tilt from the opening titles, Mottola seems more content to let the action unfold more organically, or at least as organically as a film like this can evolve.
If there is one criticism, it could be that Rogen, while completely apt for this role can be a little distracting since he wasn’t doing “a voice.” The decision to have Rogen use his own voice works both in favor and against the alien’s character. On one hand it immediately lends a comedic quality, seeing a green alien speak with a pseudo-stoner lilt. But on the other you almost “see” Rogen instead of Paul in certain scenes.
As the film ramped to its conclusion, the pacing picked up and felt just like one of the films referenced either by dialogue or even by the shots themselves. It is impossible to create a film like this without a deep knowledge and understanding of how the genre works. “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” showed Pegg and Frost’s knowledge base was deep when it came to the horror and action genres; “Paul” proves their love of Sci-Fi is just as strong.