Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unquestionably one of the greatest comic duos working today. When separated, their abilities are easy to scrutinize (as seen with Pegg in the atrocious How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), but put them together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were grand slams, consider their latest, Paul, an inside-the-park home run. The reaction may be the same, yet you can’t help but feel like it isn’t entirely deserved.
Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are sci-fi nerds. They produce their own science fiction comic book, they staunchly believe in aliens and they even speak Klingon. Their dorky personalities mean they belong at one place: Comic-Con. And that’s where they are when the film begins. When the event is over, however, they embark on a tour of American UFO hot spots, only to accidentally run into an alien. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and he has just escaped Area 51 where the government was planning on cutting out his brain and studying it. He needs to get home, so he convinces Graeme and Clive to help him.
Paul is funny. Getting that statement out of the way seems necessary because that’s what most people want to know. Its primary goal is to make you laugh and it mostly succeeds. What disappoints the most about Paul, however, is that it also aims to be a satire of the science fiction genre, but mistakes satire for references. The film features some clever nods to everything from Mork & Mindy to Star Wars and includes a particularly funny bit that shows how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for his classic hit, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but aside from a few moments, like a great joke poking fun at how slow spaceships take off at the end of sci-fi movies, Paul doesn’t so much satirize as it does pay homage. Their previous, aforementioned films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, wickedly satirized the horror and action genres, and the former was even able to make an interesting statement on apathy in regards to a generation that lumbers around like they’re already dead. When compared, it’s easy to see that Paul is empty. It lacks the intellectual depth of those films and instead relies on four letter words to garner laughs.
So I suppose it’s good I’m immature. I couldn’t help but get a kick of the foul mouthed Paul, who in one breath denounces religion in front of a Bible thumping, trailer park owner, played by Kristen Wiig, who finds logic in what he says and begins to go down the path of impurity, which includes cursing for the first time (a trait for which she just can't find a rhythm). Along with Wiig, there’s a great supporting cast here, including, but not limited to, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. With the exception of Bateman, whose comedic talent is wasted playing the straight faced, no nonsense FBI agent, everybody lends some much needed help to the film by making otherwise unfunny jokes funny through their delivery.
The would-be best supporting player, however, the one who is known for playing one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time, is seen and not heard until the end, a reveal that would have been amusing had this person’s voice not been so recognizable. It’s a wasted opportunity and an easy laugh is lost, which is similar to how the whole movie plays out. Paul hits just enough right notes to be passable, but if you’re familiar with Pegg and Frost’s previous collaborations, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat underwhelmed.
Paul receives 3/5