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Paul (15), film review

Rachel Winterbottom likes the alien movie and Pegg and Frost’s love antics

Written by . Published on March 7th 2011.


Paul (15), film review

You know how it is. You’re given the rare chance to meet one of your idols and it turns out they’re really a foulmouthed stoner who just wants to use you to get back to their own planet. Typical.

As we’ve come to expect from a Pegg and Frost, Paul pays homage to all manner of films, from ET to Titanic, Back to the Future to Indiana Jones and Pegg’s beloved Star Wars (the originals, obviously).

Two British comic-book geek bosom-buddies, Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg, Spaced, Shaun of the Dead) and the writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost, ditto), embark on a road trip for their pilgrimage of America’s UFO hotspots. On their way through Area 51, they unexpectedly encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), an actual alien, who has just escaped government captivity after crash landing in 1947.

In their rented RV, the inept three turn fugitive, picking up creationist Ruth (Kristen Wiig, SNL, Whip It) and making a whole host of enemies along the way. The four go on the run from Jason Bateman’s straight-laced Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil (yes, really), and his bumbling sidekicks Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), who would rather play hide and seek and eat sandwiches. That is, until they realise what it is they’re hunting.

No one does bromance like Pegg and Frost. Yet although their Edgar Wright-directed Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and, to a certain extent, Hot Fuzz equated comedy genius, their solo work seems lacking. This isn’t the case with science fiction comedy Paul. As co-writers, their particular brand of referential British comedy teamed with Superbad director Greg Mottola’s trademark gross-out humour creates a superb, US-audience appealing mash up.

Vanity project Paul has enabled the increasingly hefty pair to fully let out their inner geeks. Forget the geek-chic of Spaced. Even their alien thinks they’re nerds. Over the years, the pair have cultivated a genuinely sweet and loving onscreen romance and Paul is no different.

Although there’s nothing saucier than their ‘Sausage’ and ‘Eggy’ pet names; even with a large budget, Pegg and Frost haven’t set out to break their own well-earned mould. They know their appeal and they’ve set out to titillate their audience, not alienate them.

Seth Rogan as the voice of Paul channels Roger from American Dad, with a good dose of his own personal brand of wide-eyed innocence. Great CGI aside, Paul would be nothing without Rogan’s verbal antics. Whether he’s miming anal sex or healing birds to eat them fresh, the novelty of a wise-cracking alien could wear thin but not with Rogan voicing. He’s a swearing, tattooed, pop-culture referencing, sarcastic stoner with big, soulful eyes. You’ll never have been so touched by an alien.

With a 50 million dollar budget, Paul has been made with cutting edge motion caption technology, and it shows. Aside from a few clunky lines delivered from Frost, who focuses on the CGI Paul with a slightly glazed look in his eye, you’ll find yourself believing in this little green man. His eyes alone speak volumes, taking the edge off his sarcastic banter as they betray a human heart behind the computer-generated exterior.

As we’ve come to expect from a Pegg and Frost, Paul pays homage to all manner of films, from ET to Titanic, Back to the Future to Indiana Jones and Pegg’s beloved Star Wars (the originals, obviously). Clive’s lust for Ewoks aside, the references might be more obvious than oblique for their mainstream audience but that’s a sacrifice Pegg and Frost are prepared to make for this love letter to Spielberg.

Paul isn’t without its faults. Its unique portrayal of aliens doesn’t detract from the thin ‘ET phone home’ plotline. Kristen Wiig’s talent for wicked comedy was lost to her easy laughs, potty-mouth schtick. There was also a reliance on slapstick that was cringing at times and smacked of their need to justify a large budget with mainstream humour (there’s only so many times you can stomach a fainting gag). And for all its genre-busting, the ending to Paul is as pat as a romantic comedy.

Still, this is a hugely enjoyable film, and displays Pegg and Frost on form. Funny, sweet and endearing, it cultivates high hopes for the upcoming finale of the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, The World’s End rumoured to be out in 2012.

7/10

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