Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Runtime: 104 mins
This film is showing in York at Reel Cinema. Click here for more information.
It’s only about ten minutes after coming away from watching Paul that you realise that there’s very little plot to speak of. This isn’t necessarily a criticism: the film is crammed so full of references and details that anything else related to the narrative would make it seem messy, so if anything it’s an observation.
Paul is the story of Seth Rogen: The Alien. It’s important to recognise his persona voicing the title role, considering how the actor tends to be typecast into crass if emotionally honest roles. This is no exception. He escapes from Area 51 and hitches a ride with Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), two comic book nerds on a tour of America’s UFO hotspots. Later on, they’re joined by Ruth (Kristen Wiig, stealing the show – anyone familiar with her Saturday Night Live tenure won’t be surprised), a fundamentalist Christian who turns to a life of freewheeling obscenity when Paul’s existence destroys her faith. They’re pursued across the country by the men in black (no, not those ones – if only!), and it all comes to a head in a dramatic finale with at least three sci-fi references. There are probably more.
First and foremost, this is a comedy, and that’s a relief. There will be inevitable comparisons to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, because the film features Pegg and Frost, a duo whose screen presence has become inseparable over the last ten years. This, however, is quite a different breed of film, and those looking to see the work of Edgar Wright’s desire for a great big thumping heart at the centre of the story will probably be disappointed. This is perhaps the film’s only real criticism: it features a large ensemble cast, and as such spreads itself a little thin. By the end, you can’t help but wonder who to feel for, and Graeme and Clive seem forced to the periphery by Kristen Wiig and – surprisingly, considering his fairly lacklustre roles since Arrested Development – Jason Bateman. This isn’t to say they’re insignificant characters (they’re not) or that their story arcs are left incomplete (they’re not); there just isn’t the same emotional payoff for them.
But maybe that’s good. After all, this is a film that does more than enough. It features some thrilling set-pieces, a cast of brilliant actors let loose to showcase their abilities (Jane Lynch will be familiar to anyone who watches Glee, and Sigourney Weaver will be familiar to anyone), and more sci-fi genre nods than you can shake a stick at – including, to my surprise and total joy, two direct references to the 1988 E.T. ripoff Mac and Me. I never thought that film would cause me anything but pain; turns out, it serves as the basis for a couple of fantastic jokes. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun – and maybe that’s enough.