Sunday, 13 February 2011

Paul: Spaced Out?

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way up front. It's not as good as "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead". Yes, it is more mainstream and arguably more low-brow than its Pegg/Frost predecessors. Yes, this particular brand of nerdy in-joke comedy can all seem "so 1999" on occasion. But! This is still an entertaining, fun, knockabout comedy that, when taken on its own merits, is more than worthy of a couple of hours of your life.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (writing together for the first time) play Graeme and Clive, respectively, two sci-fi nerds travelling across America from the San Diego comic con to various locations of UFO significance. Around Area 51, they meet Paul, the titular E.T., and give him a lift on a wacky adventure to a rendez-vous point with his mothership.

Plotwise, this is basically "Race to Witch Mountain" with dick jokes. Along the way, the trio cross paths with a cast of allies and enemies made up of American stereotypes including Kristin Wiig as a religiously oppressed yokel, John Carroll Lynch as her evangelical, trigger-happy father, David Koechner as a burly, aggressive hick, Jason Bateman as a stoic and unstoppable "Man in Black", and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as his oafish lackeys.

Pegg and Frost are playing mere extensions of themselves, Kristin Wiig is as adorable as usual, Bateman phases out his natural charisma in favour of cold calculation with great success, and there are a couple of entertaining cameos to raise a chuckle.

The film is a little repetitive in its chase/escape/chase/escape structure, but moves at an agreeable pace and maintains a light flipness of tone which keeps you smiling even through the dry laugh-patches.

The major problems are going to be the fact that "Paul" suffers in comparison to Pegg and Frost's collaborations with Edgar Wright. Much will be made of the fact that director Greg Mottola opts for his usual warm and languid approach, rather than the frenetic verve of Wright, and that Pegg and Frost's script lacks much of the wit of Pegg's work with the "Scott Pilgrim" director, instead spending more time on obvious references and bodily function gags.

This is to do a disservice to the work on display here, though. The film may be a little crass on occasion, and a few of the gags may fall flat or be a little obvious, but there is also a lot of fun to be had, and a surprisingly warm heart beating at the centre of it all.

I can't help thinking this review reads like an apology, or an attempted justification for the failure of two people I admire, but I really didn't intend it to sound that way. "Paul" is an enjoyable film, which manages to be fun even when it's not funny. It's greatest failing is that it follows in the footsteps of two much better films.

Oh, and this was the film I wasn't allowed to talk about after the Universal day t'other week.