While Paul is not the third entry into the infamous Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s third cinematic team-up is almost as enjoyable as their previous collaborations. Let’s face it: Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are both awesome movies, and without Edgar Wright behind the camera to complete the triumvirate, one might assume that another director stepping into the situation would be a bit intimidated to work with such a close-knit group. Not the case for Superbad and Adventureland director Greg Mottola, who, while not matching Wright’s unique dynamism, imbues Paul with his own pacing and comedy sensibilities that ultimately results in a very enjoyable moviegoing experience.
The story follows Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), two geeky British comic book creators who travel to America to go on a road trip to see their favorite alien hot spots across the country. Along the way, they discover an actual alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and go on the run from Agent Zoil (Bateman), a “man in black” tasked with hunting the alien down. Pegg and Frost’s influence is felt all over this film and keeps with their signature style of slightly mocking a genre, paying homage to it, and adding an exciting new entry to its ranks all at the same time. This is one that movie geeks will love in the same way that gamers and pop culture nerds loved Scott Pilgrim vs. The World; there are so many references to other movies (alien, road trip, and otherwise) that I could spend an entire post listing all of them.
The CG work for Paul’s alien body was surprisingly impressive, never aiming for “realism,” per se, but always remaining fluid and true to the character. And speaking of the character, Paul was hilarious. He’s a smoking foul-mouthed version of E.T., embracing (and at times contributing to) human pop culture in a way that makes his character almost pleasant among all the cursing and drinking. Honestly, Paul himself was the character about whom I had the biggest doubts going in, but Seth Rogen – an actor yet to give a truly excellent performance in my opinion – did a fantastic job with the voice work and really gave the alien an extra spark of life that would be hard for many other actors to replicate.
The movie featured smaller roles for a lot of people we’ve seen in comedy before. Kristen Wiig is charming as the extremist Christian whose world is turned upside down with the discovery of extraterrestrial life (her character also doubles as Pegg’s love interest and provides a bit of conflict between Pegg and Frost). Sigourney Weaver has a small cameo as the determined head of the government agency looking for Paul. Bill Hader (“SNL”) and Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) play rookie agents tagging along with Bateman, David Koechner (Anchorman) and Jesse Plemons (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) are a couple of redneck homophobes that become bitter enemies to our heroes, and Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) has a small role as a self-centered comic creator the guys meet at Comic-Con.
Speaking of Comic-Con, the movie has the best depiction of the convention I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s such an accurate representation of what it’s like, and though the movie wasn’t actually shot at the convention, it could have fooled me. I had a chance to attend my first Comic-Con last year with the guys and girls at GeekTyrant (check out all our coverage here), and Paul not only captured the physical accuracy of the convention center and surrounding areas but also the giddy feeling of excitement it provides – geeking out as only geeks can.
If I have any qualms with the movie, it’s that the story was a bit predictable at times. Due to personal bias, I’m more willing to forgive predictability with movies that embrace fun than ones that aim for seriousness, so this wasn’t as big of a turn off for me as it most assuredly will be for some. To me, the comedy and the heart are the most important parts of this movie, and they hit on all the right beats. A lot of people will find the anti-Christian overtones to be a bit off-putting, but aside from that one issue, I think the entire film has an infectious enthusiasm to it – all of the protagonists are extremely likeable and Pegg and Frost’s writing makes it very easy to root for them. The pacing was solid, with no scene dragging on too long and the action moving quickly across different locations to keep things visually interesting.
Paul is a great entry into the ranks of the Pegg-Frost collaborations, and a new high point in Greg Mottola’s career alongside Superbad. This movie will undoubtedly put smiles on the faces of movie lovers across the country as they take an insane road trip with these characters that ends at the absolute perfect location. Until next time…