Note: This is not the official CHUD.com review, just an opinion from sometime news contributor Kenny Madison. Look for our official review soon, though this ought to be a good gauge as to what kind of film to expect when it hits theaters this Spring. – Nick
Just to establish up front, I am a huge fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I love Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is one of my all time favorite films (of all time), and think that these two films are two of the most important films of all time ever (a little bit of hyperbole in there). When I saw the first few frames of Paul come up, I looked at the screen and silently mouthed, “I missed you.” Go ahead, call it sad. I dare you.
So, when I say that Paul was mediocre, I want you to understand my full meaning. It’s not exactly heart breaking, but, for someone that pulls so hard for Nicolas Angel and Danny Butterman, it’s saddening.
For the fanbase of this site, you should know the premise of Paul by now, but here’s a primer just in case. Two English nerds named Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost, respectively) are making a cross-country trek through the United States post Comic-Con. Unfortunately, their plans go awry when they encounter a wisecracking, pot smoking alien nicknamed Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Suddenly, their road trip takes a hard turn and its up to our two heroes to save Paul from the government before they cut open his brain. Kind of a buzzkill.
What’s so surprising about Paul was how not funny it was. Not to say that there weren’t jokes all around, but the creative side seemed a lot more focused in setting up emotional ties between all of the characters. The problem is that I didn’t really care about Graeme and Clive. They’re adequate characters, but there’s no real arc for them. There’s a hint of real jealousy when they introduce Kristen Wiig’s Christian character, Ruth, but it isn’t really brought to fruition. Everything becomes ancillary to Paul and his wisecracking.
Which brings us to the title character. I’m a Seth Rogen fan, so he’s not a problem for me. I think the real problem here lies in the execution of the character. The joke is that he’s lewd and crude, but he’s also an alien. That’s funny on a chuckle level, but stretched out to feature length, it falls flat. It seems like the filmmakers knew this, so they shoehorned in some attempts at real emotion and depth. There are some arbitrary emotional decisions where Paul tries to leave the group, but they seem like decisions just to make the film look complicated. Rogen does his best with the character, but the jokes he delivers feel predictable.
In fact, a lot of the characters’ jokes feel predictable. For instance, when Ruth is convinced that God isn’t real by Paul’s existence, she starts cursing up a storm. And keeps going. And going. And going. It stops being funny after awhile, but there isn’t much else for her to do on the trip. Graeme and Clive are constantly mistaken for gay men because of how much they love each other. There are two wacky FBI agents played by Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader which gave me flashes of the incompetent cops from Superbad. Jason Bateman has one joke in the film and it didn’t play with the audience I saw it with. And everyone in the film is impressed by an alien with three tits.
I hope you get the problem with Paul. All of the ideas seem either half-baked or cliche.I did get excited when the film turned into a love letter to Spielberg (including a cameo from the man himself). They even travel to a rather important location that might not be too hard to deduce considering both the subject matter of this film and Spielberg’s prior filmography. But they don’t do anything with it. Pegg and Frost, who also serve as screenwriters of this particular film, aren’t afraid to drop plentiful references, but aren’t really willing to go full on by either utilizing the references to their fullest or trying to do something kind of original. It’s not all over the place, but the script feels like a couple of drafts away from something really important.
Even Greg Mottola seems wasted, working as a director-for-hire here. He brings none of the visual flair that he brought to his previous work. I hate to compare him to Edgar Wright, but with so many references, there are a million different chances to do something really funny visually. While there are flashes of real wit in his visual language, Mottola lets the rest of the film just kind of lie there.
I really wish I could say that there are some redeeming qualities of the film, something that throws it into greatness, but it’s simply a mediocre film. I’m an ardent supporter for every single person involved in this work, but Paul is a film that exists for one certain group: nerds. There are a billion trillion references in the film and, while some of them are truly clever, they don’t do anything to further the film. When a reference appears, I laughed appropriately, but I didn’t really feel anything. Pegg’s and Frost’s previous works utilize pop culture in ways that reveal character and furthered story (Point Break in Hot Fuzz), but the references in Paul exist to prove how ensconced the authors are in pop culture. The film seems so bereft of real humor, it goes to pop culture to be the punchline. Some of the best lines were pop culture references, which I can’t say was a case in either Pegg’s, Frost’s, or Mottola’s previous works. Not really a problem, but our guys can do better.
Paul is not a bad film. It’s just not a great film. For people who were involved in two of the greatest comedies of the millenium (because it’s early), I don’t think it’s too difficult to expect more out of them. I’ll still defend the two until the day I die, but for now, I’ll just go sit in my corner and pout.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars