'Paul' (UK Release: 14 Feb '11)
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jason Bateman, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig
Somewhat surprisingly 'Paul' was released in the UK this Monday, obviously hoping to cash in on the Valentine's Day crowd. While empirically we're yet to find out whether this move has paid off, I went with a ladyfriend to see the film on its opening night. And we had a great time. Critics, on the other hand, seem to have struggled with the film's attempt at a broader appeal - in comparison to previous Nick Frost and Simon Pegg offerings.
Writer-director Edgar Wright is absent in this feature, albeit not to the noticeable extent that has been claimed. That would be doing Greg Mottola, the director of 'Paul', a great disservice. Mottola manages to blend action and humour in an entertaining manner, and for the most part, without delving into unintentional pastiche. Admittedly however, there is a great deal of intentional pastiche.
Pegg and Frost have combined to create a self-confessed love letter to science fiction, and most prominently, Steven Spielberg. This is their 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'-meets-'E.T' but imagined as a stoner road trip comedy.
Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg), two British comic book "nerds", travel to America for Comic-Con and go on a road trip to catch the supposed alien hotspots, such as Area 51 and Roswell. Except along the way, they meet Paul (Seth Rogen), an actual alien, who's on the run from the Government and much like E.T, just wants to go home. Cue hilarious japes as the road trip continues with some extra baggage.
I genuinely think that this is a rewarding watch for anyone who has more than a passing interest in sci-fi. Frost and Pegg have adopted the 'Spaced' model of dropping in references wherever they possibly can - my favourite being Mr Spielberg's first feature 'Duel' listed at a local cinema in a background shot.
The film's humour too is often top notch although veers into the juvenile frequently - several jokes about Clive and Graeme being a gay couple take the gloss off their "bromance", rather than adding to it. And the frequency of swearing (particularly from Paul, who is quite the potty mouth) means that you definitely should not be taking young uns to see 'Paul'.
Rogen deserves special mention for his brilliant voicing of Paul, although he is essentially playing the same character he played in 'Pineapple Express'. Except he's from another planet. Speaking of which, I salute the use of The Only Ones in the opening scene. As for Paul's CGI nature, it actually comes off surprisingly well - I had feared the worst from the trailer - the interactions between actor and CGI character are typically as engaging as between actor and actor. Credit to Mottola there.
The film does end up in suspiciously similar territory to 'Muppets From Space' but I rather enjoyed that film too so I don't mind all that much. In fact, I can only assume that the filmmakers realised this similarity and cast Jeffrey Tambor (from the aforementioned Muppets film) in a cameo role. Sadly, there is no Hulk Hogan or Bobo The Bear in 'Paul'. There are however a few put downs of creationism so every cloud...
'Paul' might lack the wit and originality of previous Pegg and Frost collaborations but there are still many laughs to be had, a healthy dose of action, and dozens of sci-fi references to enjoy. It's not proving to be a recipe for widespread critical acclaim but it may well be a recipe for reasonable worldwide success. And that will be Jenga.
'Paul' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas now and will be released in the US in March.