Pegg, Frost and a CGI alien combine to sci-funny effect in one of 2011 most entertaining films.
There is a moment in Spaced where Simon Pegg struggles to come to terms with the monstrosity that is Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars; The Phantom Menace (1999). With this in mind there must have been a moment’s hesitation from all those involved with Paul as to whether or not they could pull it off. Pegg has come along way since Spaced and thankfully so has CGI characters. Suffice to say they do pull it off and with no shortage of boisterous film fan revelry.
Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are best friends setting out on a road trip to take in the best the US has to offer in alien landmarks. Having attended Comic-Con, picked up their RV and narrowly escaped some local hicks the open road is all that lies before them. That is until a foul mouthed alien called Paul(Rogen) crashes in front of them and asks their help in getting him home. Picking up a devout Christian on the way in the form of Ruth (Wigg) they find themselves pursued by a trio of X-Files like agents led by Agent Zoil (Bateman) as they try to get Paul back to his spaceship.
From the outset of Paul it is made clear that this is Pegg and Frost’s love letter to the films they grew up with. With its Close Encounters Of The Third Kind(1977) opening, through obvious E.T. (1982) homage’s and even nods to films like Blues Brothers (1980), Pegg and Frost have created a tapestry forconnoisseurs of popular film culture. Crucially though it is in no way forced or exclusively for those who recognise the references. There are never jokes, gags or homages to other films shoe horned in for cheap laughs. Instead, like a well-written stand-up sketch there are motifs and punch lines that reoccur to delightful effect.
If The King’s Speech was a Royal bromance then Paul is a sci-fi bromance with Pegg and Frost taking on the buddy format. Of course their chemistry has been tried and tested to resounding success over films like Shaun Of The Dead(2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). The missing ingredient for their latest outing is Spaced and Shaun director Edgar Wright. In his absence comes Superbad’s (2007) Gregg Mottola. His pacing and style is considerably more refined than Wright’s and in this context it is more than welcome. In fact he has clearly been brushing up on his Spielbergexecution. The film is distinctly reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films as well as E.T. with the way it intelligently keeps key plot points hidden while never allowing the pace to let up. There is almost a grand feel to it. Furthermore, coming from his Arrested Development origins Mottola uses some of that show’s cast to brilliant effect.
But Paul was always going to live or die by the realisation of its titular character. Thankfully Paul the alien is less Jar Jar Binks and more Gollum. He is a wonderfully realised character that integrates perfectly into the film. There is never a moment when you doubt he is there interacting with his human co-stars. The folks at special effect house Double Negative should take huge accolades for the loveable character of Paul.
Of course by now Pegg and Frost could perform these roles in their sleep. They rarely break from their tried and tested routine but in many ways this is comforting amongst all the madness that surrounds them. For the first time in their collaboration Frost plays the straight man with Pegg and it is Paul who acts as the comedic relief. Voiced by Seth Rogen, Paul is a foul-mouthed alien with a wealth of interstellar knowledge. A beer swilling Yoda if you will, but it is testament to Rogen’s vocal talents that you instantly like him. Wigg gives a fun turn as Ruth, lending a wonderfully innocent awakening as she dispels her religious beliefs in favour of miss-used ‘cussing’. Bateman meanwhile is on typically dry form but here plays the supposed villain to effortlessly cool effect. Special mention should also go toJeffrey Tambor, one of Mottola’s Arrested alumni, who gives a brief but memorable performance as Adam Shadowchild the sci-fi author who Clive and Graeme long to meet.
For some Paul is geek nirvana, a film that plays effortlessly to those of us who bleed Star Wars and all things connected. To others it is a hugely enjoyable road trip with endlessly likable and heartfelt characters. While Pegg and Frost have obviously reigned in some of their more latent sense of humour, the alien’s in America gag is kept surprisingly low-key, it is nonetheless laugh out loud funny. Buckle up, strap in and laugh till it hurts with Paul as your friendly alien tour guide. Stellar.