After tackling zombies and police action, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s take on the sci-fi genre is what fans have been waiting for since Spaced. While some of the intrinsic British humour is lost in the relocation to the heartlands of America, Paul is a comedy for people who know their sci-fi.
Like so many famous comedy duos before them, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have always worked best as a unit. Both had appeared on various British comedy series in the past, but the touching, funny and geekified Spaced, written by and starring Pegg and Jessica Stephenson (and directed by Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World helmer Edgar Wright), was the show that launched them both into the limelight. Although both have had appearances at home and in Hollywood – Pegg in the high-profile Star Trek and taking a lead role in Run Fatboy Run and How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, Frost less prominent in The Boat That Rocked Penelope and Wild Child – when they have come together (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) it has been pure gold.
British fanboys Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) travel to the US to attend the annual San Diego Comic-Con Convention, before embarking on a cross-country pilgrimage of famous UFO sightings. Along the way they encounter a variety of oddballs and rednecks, but the chance encounter that alters their destinies is with Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet), a wise-cracking grey alien who is looking for a way home. Hotly pursued by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, Extract) and his henchmen Haggard (Bill Hader, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio, Gulliver’s Travels), they only have the help of the Bible-bashing Ruth (Kristen Wiig, Despicable Me) in returning Paul to his mothership.
Written by Pegg and Frost, the duo secured the directorial stylings of Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland), Paul is jam-packed with the same kind of visual and audio references to other sci-fi films as Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were for their respective genres. We see the desert locations of the original Star Trek television series, dialogue from Star Wars, the Devil’s Tower mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and countless nods to Alien, Predator, Back to the Future and so on. Remember Mac and Me? Frost and Pegg do, and they want you to as well. The real joys of watching this kind of intertextual comedy is that, unlike the lowbrow Scary Movie franchise and its brethren, is that it rewards smart and attentive viewers. Like a live-action version of The Simpsons, or more accurately a feature-length episode of Spaced, Paul can be enjoyed as a simple comedy road trip (or a stoner version of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial if you like), but the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it approach to laughs ensures that whatever goes over the heads of younger audiences will be picked up by the geeks. Still, as the classification rating and strong language would imply, this is aimed squarely at an older audience and is loving every minute of it.
Paul himself is such an ordinary creature, the kind that Seth Rogen has played so many times before in the likes of Knocked Up, Pineapple Express or Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Yet it is hearing and seeing the laconic voice and behaviour in the body of something extraordinary that is one of the principle jokes here, and for the most part it works. The college humour goes a little over the top at times, and the ‘pressed ham’ type gags and redneck jokes seem to be Pegg and Frost attempting to appeal to a broader US audience, but there is plenty to love about Paul. A terrific support cast, which is basically a who’s who of decent US comedy – Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Jane Lynch (Glee), David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) to name a few – give the film a real energy that help overcome some of infrequent lulls in the narrative. There are even a few surprise appearances in there for you sci-fi fans. Paul is a joy, and if it isn’t a major hit for Pegg and Frost, then there simply is no justice in the world.
Paul will be released in Australia on 14 April 2011 by Universal Pictures.