Paul is an uneven comedy. It’s a bromance, road trip and sci-fi spoof all rolled into a 100-minute package. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost share the limelight as a pair of England nerds who have traveled to San Diego to be part of the geek nirvana that is Comic-Con. Renting a RV, the two embark on a road trip to visit some of the alien hot spots, like Nevada’s Area 51 and Roswell, New Mex.
Pegg and Frost are a talented comic duo, but there’s a problem. There’s two types of Simon Pegg. You have Simon Pegg Simon Pegg and an Edgar Wright enhanced Simon Pegg. When all three are together (see Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) it has amounted to a pair of entertaining spoofs on different film genres – zombie horror and action films. Wright’s signature humor is nowhere to be found in Paul, however. Instead, the film was scripted by Pegg and Frost and shot by Superbad auteur Greg Mottola.
Driving across the southwest in the RV, aspiring illustrator Graeme Willy (Pegg) and sci-fi writing friend Clive Gollings (Frost) nearly collide with another car that spins violently out of control, flipping off the road. Stopping to check to see if anyone is hurt, Graeme and Clive happen upon Paul, a very laid-back guy with nary a scratch on him. He’s also from another planet. With a pair of huge eyes, big head and gray-colored skin, Paul looks like the aliens we’ve seen already in illustrations and on television – minus his cargo shorts, of course.
Paul is in trouble. He needs to get back to his home planet. Promising that he has no desire to anally probe either of them, Paul hitches a ride.
Greg Mottola cuts between the two manchildren and an alien to Paul’s pursuers, another trio consisting of federal agents. Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) is the seasoned pro. Joining him is a pair of rookies, Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), who are every bit as nerdy as Graeme and Clive.
Paul may be on his way to rejoin the mothership but there’s no urgency to get there – because it wouldn’t be a road trip picture without little interludes. They take pit stops along the way, pick up snacks like Reese’s Pieces (Paul’s favorite), and even meet Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a shy, sheltered fundamentalist Christian. Keeping her faith in the Lord, meeting Paul comes as a shock. To keep her from squealing, they kidnap in the nicest of ways. No rope or duct tape needed.
The addition of Ruth to the story opens up a can of worms when discussing life. She adheres to the Big Bang theory rather than the theory of Evolution. So when Paul puts his sinewy hand on her forehead, he transfers his knowledge of life and universe to her and it causes her to disavow intelligent design. Such illumination gives her the freedom to also cuss like a sailor, delivering some of the filthiest lines of dialogue.
Simon Pegg, when writing in tandem with Edgar Wright, succeeded in riffing genres but also put those genres in a positive light with the films it referenced. Hot Fuzz gave new audiences a reason to care about Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. Paul doesn’t do a good job with its in-jokes. The audience going in has to have more than a passing knowledge of some of the movies being referenced. The importance of Reese’s Pieces is an example. References are good if they can help push the story forward, but mostly fall flat in this comedy.
Greg Mottola may have been brought in on a work-for-hire capacity, having suffered creative setback after Adventureland failed to find an audience, but he did have the opportunity to reunite with previous collaborator Seth Rogen. Rogen lends his voice to the Paul character, and it’s the type of performance he can do in his sleep by now, having voiced characters in Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda.
While it is sure to be a hit with the Comic-Con faithful, appealing to their love of science fiction, Paul remains a disappointing comedy. With subtle references to the works of Steven Spielberg – the filmmakers even go as far as to have the director phone in a cameo – the screenplay could have used Edgar Wright’s assistance. The missed laughs far outweigh those that hit their target.
Director: Greg Mottola
Notable Cast:Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Seth Rogen, Sigourney Weaver, Joe Lo Truglio
Writer(s):Simon Pegg and Nick Frost