Zombie killers, village policemen – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are certainly fans of oddball protagonists. But what about two alien-obsessed comicon enthusiasts who stumble across a genuine extra-terrestrial?
Let’s not mess around, here – this was a hotly anticipated film for anyone who knows the work of Pegg and Frost, whether you’re a huge Hot Fuzz fan or you grew up watching Spaced. It’s therefore a little worrying to see them tackle an idea that seems so clichéd. A couple of nerds who stumble across an alien who swears, smokes and acts up? Sounds like E.T. meets American Dad.
Of course, this is largely exactly what the film is, but don’t let that spoil it for you. Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are the epitome of comicon geeks – fawning over fake swords from obscure fantasy and sci-fi adventures, hyperventilating over meeting Adam Shadowchild (a fictional sci-fi author played by the wonderfully talented Jeffrey Tambor), and firmly sat at the front of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H.
Post-con, they’ve planned to do a tour of all the alien-related hotspots across the United States, from Area 51 to the fabled Black Mailbox (sadly no longer black). After witnessing a horrific car crash, they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). The classic grey-skinned, big-headed alien, he’s a chain smoking, profane, sick-minded, sixty-year-old life-form from a distant galaxy (Andromeda, if anyone’s asking). And he wants to go home.
Cue a classic chase across the United States, as Graeme, Clive and Paul, in addition to Graeme’s initially God-fearing one-eyed love interest Ruth (Kristen Wiig) attempt to escape the government, Ruth’s father, and two angry Southern Men.
The easiest thing to spot, with Paul, is that they’ve definitely tried to Americanise the film’s dialogue as much as possible. The only downside to this is that a lot of the humour has been watered down, leaving Pegg and Frost’s work with but a few shining examples of scathing British wit. However, Rogen’s affable alien persona more than makes up for some of the more eye-rolling one liners, and his identity as an alien without an internal censor helps excuse him from seeming uncouth or unintelligent.
I suppose that’s what it boils down to – it’s not set in North London, or a small English seaside town with a dark secret. It’s set in a land of seemingly stupid CIA agents and almost ferally moronic Southern folk. Those are stereotypes we’re used to, but I find it interesting that after the release of his autobiography Nerd Do Well, Pegg would choose to portray comic and sci-fi fans as socially inept losers when suffering through a lot of those stereotypes himself.
There are certainly a fair few enjoyable moments, however – Paul is, without a doubt, the highlight of the film. The animation work is absolutely spectacular and Rogen does a fantastic job of helping to bring the little grey fellow to life. Another highlight is a cameo from a sci-fi super-heroine – I won’t spoil who it is, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
Worth a watch, definitely, but speaking as a geek, it’s an odd experience to have constant chuckle-worthy sci-fi references (the band in a Southern bar playing the Star Wars cantina theme) setting you apart from those around you in terms of “getting it”, whilst simultaneously being constantly told via the subtext of the film’s characterisation that you’re a loser of the highest degree.
One more for the mass audience, but with a few gems for sci-fi nuts, would be my summary of Paul. Hopefully we’ll see Pegg and Frost return to home soil and create a few more gems like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before they drift off into Hollywoodland completely. Until then, beam me up, Scotty.