Graham and Clive are two English nerds driving through America in an RV, visiting as many sites of extraterrestrial importance as possible. However, while on their travels, they encounter Paul, an alien on the run from Area 51 and desperate to go back home. As they travel together to reach Paul’s ‘ride home’, they encounter a half-blind creationist and her God fearing father, two inept FBI agents and a dangerous government fed, all of whom provide their own obstacles in the path. Can Graham, Clive and Paul make it in time to get Paul home?
So here it is. Shaun of the Dead was awesome. Hot Fuzz was awesome. Will Paul be awesome? Can it live up to its predecessors? Well, let’s see, it has all the right elements: Simon Pegg. Check. Nick Frost. Check. Edgar Wright. Ch... Wait, no. Indeed, this is Pegg and Frost venturing out on their own, stepping away from the Blood and Ice Cream/Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and creating a little bit different something for themselves, something they’ve written with Adventureland’s Greg Mottola stepping in to direct. The question is then: How good is a film with only two members of a winning trio? Answer: They need the third man back.
Don’t get me wrong, Paul is an OK film; Pegg and Frost have done a great job in writing a loving homage to all the alien/sci-fi films they’ve ever seen, but based on this evidence, they not only need Edgar Wright behind the camera telling them what to do, but they also need him back in the writing room, telling them what’s funny and what’s not. Pegg and Frost were unleashed to create something they thought was very kitsch and funny, and unfortunately a lot of the jokes, both visual and aural, fall flat. They’ve tried to be too conscientious with the references, it is a 90 minute bombardment of in-jokes and minor references and famous lines and it all just gets a bit too much by the end. Also, it’s a very British script for a film full of American actors, and it becomes painfully obvious at times when the lines are awkwardly delivered and get no reaction.
On top of that, you are bombarded with famous faces in both the starring roles and in mere cameos. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Jeffrey Tambor, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, Steven Spielberg; they’re all faces or voices you’ll know from something else and it’s a real clusterfuck, though it is fun trying to spot the famous actor. As far as performances go, Pegg and Frost play sci-fi nerds well, I’d guess because they actually are sci-fi nerds, hence the script and the film. Jason Bateman pulls off the dry and sinister government fed well, showing he’s better when he sticks to his Arrested Development best. Speaking of AD, the funniest cameo goes to Jeffrey Tambor playing a pompous author sick of meeting his fans at places like Comic Con. He got the laughs that I doubt Stephen King (Pegg and Frost’s first choice for the role) could have gotten. Aside from them, Kristen Wiig is funny as the naive creationist who gets her eyes opened, literally at one point, to the wider world. She’s a funny lady, and she’s about to leave her SNL personas behind and make it huge in films. Keep an eye out for her in Bridesmaids later this year.
As for the story, it’s very cliché ridden, but then maybe that’s a good thing for a film which is clearly a screaming homage to every alien film from the last 50 years. It takes every stop and makes every twist and turn you’d expect so it doesn’t really offer any surprises, it really is just an easy watch for an hour and a half. All the sci-fi tropes are tied together nicely by the script, Paul’s image as the classic alien is explained (he actually IS the inspiration for the classic alien image), and it mixes old school with new school nicely, making light of the whole ‘alien probing’ and ‘invasion’ elements of so many alien films previous.
Overall, it’s a nice effort, but Frost and Pegg really needed Wright to rein them in. That’s not to say anything bad about Mottola’s direction, but he obviously just doesn’t understand what Pegg and Frost needed of him and Mottola went ahead and made his own film from the script without even questioning the dialogue or storyline. The acting’s good, and it’s occasionally funny, but the laughs aren’t consistent enough to carry it all the way through to the end. It will, inevitably, be compared to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and those standards are just way too high for this film to ever meet. The ironic thing is this is a perfect definition of 'middle of the road'.