Frost and Pegg are back together again in "Paul"Frost and Pegg are back together again in Paul
Unfortunately, this time it’s less interesting
For every menacing, fear-inducing being that’s been presented in cinema, there’s always the alternative friendly adaptation of said creature, be it bears, ghosts, lions or in this case, an alien. Paul is the latest in non-threatening supernatural sidekicks. But that doesn’t mean he is a straight-edge, Casper contemporary. No, no, no. Paul smokes, cusses and encourages fraternity ballyhoo. He’s a pop culture wizard whose contribution to modern-day society is emphatically ever-present, and his recent escape from American containment is the basis for the story put to the screen.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s accomplishments as a duo are just that: accomplishments. Previously working exclusively with satirical filmmaker Edgar Wright, they’ve now teamed up with Greg Mottola of Superbad fame. Pegg and Frost play geeky, British tourists visiting America. They’ve come to attend the Super Bowl of comic conventions, Comic-Con, and drive across southwestern America seeking out famed extraterrestrial hotspots. On their way, a speeding black car crashes in front of them, and out of the wreckage emerges the titular alien.
Seth Rogen voices the down to earth space creature, and adds a surprising humanity to him. Paul’s character is written to be “just one of the dudes,” and Rogen’s performance supports that. As distracting as computer-created lead characters can be, Paul manages to avoid this pitfall. Our alien friend fits his space believably, and doesn’t distract or seem terribly out of the ordinary.
Chasing the escaped alien and British tourists is Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), whose mission is to return Paul to the U.S. government. His two ill-informed sidekicks, played by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio, tail Zoil having no idea who or what they’re after. Along the way, Pegg and Frost pick up bible-thumper Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), who joins them on their cross-country getaway.
Paul comes along appearing more polished and mainstream than any of the works by either Pegg and Frost or Mottola. The Hollywood sheen coating Paul is curious when considering the film’s content. Paul feels and looks like a PG-13 film. Innocuous profanity is laced throughout and pushes it toward the harsher rating, but the interior of the picture really doesn’t fit. This disparity makes those pursuits feel unnecessary and begs for a justification. If Paul is a picture meant for a mature audience, then the content should have supported that, instead of balancing in the middle. The way it stands, Paul struggles in tone.
What Pegg and Frost have brought to other features is a great understanding of films from the 70s and 80s. Paul is no different, with a myriad of references to films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The difference here is that these references are only there to wink. Instead of slyly tying into the picture and riffing on holy nerd sci-fi, the film seems content with just showing us things.
The performances all around are solid, the most attractive of which are the turns by Hader and Lo Truglio as the determined officers. The laughs come at a steady pace but it’s a film that feels like an early year release; there’s really not much behind it. Thing is, this is the exception, not the rule for the film’s crew. Motolla’s last, Adventureland, was an underrated modern day John Hughes picture, and Pegg and Frost’s last pairing was in the hilarious Hot Fuzz. Far from a bad film, Paul is one that can certainly be enjoyed during these lackluster early months — just don’t expect the depth seen in the previous works by the talent involved.