Should I Watch..? 'Paul'
What's the big deal?
Paul is a sci-fi comedy film released in 2011 and reunites the stars of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They play a couple of comic book nerds who undertake a tour of supposed alien 'sightseeing' hot-spots and accidentally find themselves harbouring a real alien escaping recapture by the US Government. Written by Pegg and Frost, the film contains numerous references to sci-fi films and TV shows but Paul was directed by Greg Mottola instead of their usual collaborator, Edgar Wright. The film also stars Seth Rogen, Kirsten Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner and Joe Lo Truglio. Released to a largely positive reception from critics, the film would go on to earn just shy of $98 million worldwide.
What's it about?
Comic book writer Clive Gollings and his best friend and illustrator Graeme Willy are indulging in the trip of a lifetime - flying from the UK to enjoy the San Diego Comic Con before having a road trip around the States to visit various sites connected to supposed alien activity. En route to Area 51, they are held up after a car spectacularly crashes in front of them. Getting out of their Winnebago to investigate, the pair are greeted by an actual alien who introduces himself as Paul. With Clive fainting and Graeme too stunned to really argue, Paul hops along for the ride in the hope that he can return to his spaceship and leave Earth.
Naturally, Paul is not alone. He is pursued by Special Agent Zoil who works for the enigmatic Big Guy, a shadowy representative of the Secret Service. Zoil recruits a couple of inept FBI agents, O'Reilly and Haggard, and they quickly begin to close in on Paul, Graeme and Clive - who have picked up another passenger in the form of Christian fundamentalist Ruth Buggs.
Special Agent Zoil
Joe Lo Truglio
Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Release Date (UK)
14th February, 2011
What's to like?
Anyone familiar with Pegg and Frost and their work in the so-called "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy will be instantly accustomed to Paul and its sense of humour. The film is a seemingly endless stream of references to every sci-fi flick or TV show you can imagine but is also a lovingly fond look at fans of such material - indeed, Pegg has long professed to being something of a geek. In between such moments, the banter between the two leads is as solid as it's ever been and the film also has the same excellent standards in terms of soundtrack.
Paul himself is certainly an interesting character and the film has plenty of opportunity to explore a number of ideas such as Paul being behind every sci-fi cliché you've ever seen in movies or discussing alien life-forms with a pre-E.T. Steven Spielberg. Rogen inhabits the character fully and gives the viewer a different style of humour that fans used to Pegg and Wright may be used to. Add in Wiig's enthusiastic performance and cameos from Jeffrey Tambor, Sigourney Weaver and David Koechner and the film zips along at a cracking comedic pace. If you can forgive the sheer implausibility of the film then Paul is a perfect way to either laugh with (or laugh at) sci-fi and its die-hard fans.
- Spielberg suggested the cameo himself when he caught wind of the project. Pegg and Frost intended the film to be a love-letter to Spielberg's sci-fi work in particular and the director was only too happy to appear in this film.
- Pegg and Frost admitted in an interview that the budget for Paul was more than the combined budgets for Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. This led to more compromise with the studio, something the pair were unused to.
- Simon Pegg is the godfather to Blythe Danner's granddaughter, Apple Martin - the daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. By coincidence, Spielberg is the godfather to Gwyneth Paltrow.
What's not to like?
Firstly, I didn't enjoy Paul as much as the earlier work of Pegg and Frost. The film isn't as clever as Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz and once Paul is involved, the film quickly resorts to excessive swearing and jokes about boners. It all feels somewhat immature and lazy, as though all the good ideas the film has suddenly disappear in a puff of greenish smoke. Wiig's character also didn't fit in - if anything, she feels more unlikely than Paul does - and she is tragically underwritten. The film also has too many protagonists from Wiig's Bible-bashing father chasing them across the desert to the underused efforts of Sigourney Weaver, who surely deserved more than this as the unofficial queen of sci-fi.
There was also a twist in the ending which came out of nowhere and didn't make a whole lot of sense. The film is fine for a comedy but given the pedigree of Pegg and Frost, it's fair to say that I had higher expectations and Paul falls short. One wonders if the film would have been different if Edgar Wright was in the director's chair instead of Mottola, whose previous movie Superbad feels kinda similar to this at times. I wanted less weed and erection gags and more sci-fi rib-tickling but the movie was stuck on a course I wasn't too sure on.
Should I watch it?
Paul certainly isn't a patch of the previous movies Pegg and Frost had appeared together in but the film remains an enjoyable enough romp through geek culture that most will appreciate. It lacks the satirical edge it desperately requires but the film has plenty to amuse without repeating itself too much. Like Rogen himself, the film probably works better once you've had a smoke.
Great For: sci-fi fans, pot heads, alien enthusiasts, fans of The X-Files
Not So Great For: fans of Three Flavours Cornetto, people who take themselves too seriously, the Deep South
What else should I watch?
Of course, Pegg and Frost would revisit the theme of aliens in the conclusion to the Three Flavours Cornetto - The World's End. Unlike Paul, that film deals with themes of alienation and ageing in a way that makes it stand unique in the series. Shaun Of The Dead is a reference-filled zombie homage but with so much humour and originality that I prefer it to the all-action buddy-cop comedy Hot Fuzz. But in truth, all three are worth watching.
Aliens have been a sci-fi staple since cinema has been a medium, from the blood-thirsty monsters in the likes of Alien and Predator to more agreeable creatures found in family films like Flight Of The Navigator and Batteries Not Included to the crude rubber suits passed off as aliens in classic sci-fi like The Blob. Trust me, finding aliens at the movies is a lot easier than travelling to New Mexico in a Winnebago.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox