The most brilliantly-titled film of the year sees UK comedy dream team Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunited for the first time since Hot Fuzz but without their long-time collaborator and friend Edgar Wright in the director’s chair. This time around the boys are working with Greg Mottola, talented director of Superbad and, inevitably, they’ve created a film with a different sort of energy, albeit one which relies on the same chemistry between the two leads which powered the superior Shaun of the Dead (possibly the best British film of the last decade) and Hot Fuzz.
Pegg and Frost are back in familiar territory playing a pair of British sci-fi geeks fulfilling a lifelong dream in attending the legendary Comic-Con in San Diego before renting an RV and setting off on a road trip across America’s UFO heartland. A speeding car careers off the road across their path and out from the wreckage appears Paul, a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed alien in the classic ‘grey’ tradition of all the famous faked alien autopsy footage. Paul’s on the run and our two heroes find themselves rushing across the States with Men in Black in hot pursuit determined to track down the escaped extra-terrestrial.
It’s good to see Pegg and Frost back on screen (in a script they co-wrote) not only because they work so well together but also because they seem to do their best work together. Pegg’s solo work can be hit and miss; for every Run Fatboy Run there’s a stinker like Burke and Hare and his misjudged comic interpretation of Scotty in the first new Star Trek movie threatened to unbalance a decent reinvention of a stodgy franchise. Frost is scarcely leading man material but he offers up decent support in films such as the otherwise dire Boat That Rocked and the recent Attack the Block and gave a good account of himself in Money on BBC2 last year. But the on-screen partnership created in TV’s Spaced is where the magic really happens and they’re both on top form in Paul where they only slightly compromise their comic sensibilities for a broader American audience in a mainstream American movie.
Paul is clearly a labour of love for Pegg and Frost, allowing them to slip easily back into their preferred nerdy sci-fi fan boy personas and their script is littered with references to the most influential SF films of the last thirty years from Star Wars, Aliens and Close Encounters via a cheeky recreation of a famous cheesy scene from the original Star Trek TV series. Some of the running gags are more obvious and less subtle but the film never slips too far into American Pie crudity despite the inevitable strong language and some of Paul’s gross-out behaviour. Paul himself is a masterpiece of special effects, CGI so convincing that it’s easy to forget that he generally didn’t exist as a physical presence during the filming. The animation is flawless and intricately-detailed with Seth Rogen’s vocal performance giving a potentially-unattractive character a real warmth and, ironically, real humanity.
Plenty of action, some good gags, great supporting performances from the always-reliable Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver (swearing her head off), a resolution which just about manages to stay on the right side of mawkishness and a frankly killer deadpan final line of dialogue combine to create an affectionate, inventive fun romp of a road movie. Pegg and Frost are always a delight to watch and Paul will do nicely until Edgar Wright’s back on board for the long-awaited third in the so-called ‘Cornetto’ trilogy.
Paul is out on Blu-ray and two-disc DVD with a slew of brief special features (Bloopers, the Evolution of Paul) a forty-minute detailed 'making of’ on disc two and the inevitable commentary and the film itself appears as the theatrical version and an extended ’unrated’ version.
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Paul is available now in the UK.