Paul is an enjoyable comedy by one of my favorite writer/actor pairs with a lot of pop culture and sci-fi references and a ton of laughs but is still missing a bit of the spark from their previous efforts.
Paul tells the story of two British sci-fi fans taking a pilgrimage to America for the San Diego Comic Con who decide to use their trip to visit alleged sites of alien and UFO activity. Along the way they run afoul of some red necks and, while trying to escape a beating, come across a car crash that holds an alien named Paul. Paul has escaped from a government facility and needs their help to get to a pick up site so he can finally leave the planet and return home. The adventure they go on is hilarious and often surprising mostly due to Paul’s everyman sort of attitude.
I am a huge fan of writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Three of my cats are named after characters from their Spaced tv series and I think Hyperdrive (which stars Frost) is the best Star Trek parody this side of Galaxy Quest. That is to say nothing of how glorious Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are. So I am predisposed to like Paul and I liked it plenty. Still, it felt like it was missing something from those previous efforts and didn’t connect as perfectly as they did. It might seem unfair but I am almost less charitable because of their involvement than more so.
The characters are all very well drawn and they do a good job of balancing sentimental material with irreverent and they do it without feeling cheap or lazy. I think lesser writers would have stuck with anal probe jokes and kept hammering on the gross out material. Some of that is here but when it is used, it is used appropriately and never indulgently. Part of this is do to how earnest the two main characters are. Clive (Frost) and Graham (Pegg) aren’t quite man children but they aren’t quite fully adult. This gives them plenty of room to grow and to have a decent helping of awkwardness without making them feel like complete losers.
The special effects are amazing and Paul, a completely CG character voiced by Seth Rogen, looks phenomenal. When reading about the movie prior to release my biggest concern about it would be that Paul would come off looking cheap or unrealistic but he is so well animated and rendered that I found myself forgetting he wasn’t real. Rogen’s voice work is really great as well and that sells the illusion even more.
The supporting performances were uniformly good. Jason Bateman shines as Agent Zoil is Bateman doing what he does best with dry delivery of funny lines. Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are also very good as Agents Haggard and O’Reilly respectively. Hader plays it mostly straight while Lo Truglio delivers a funny character that is a bit subdued for him. Kristen Wiig is pretty much Kristen Wiig as a cycloptic bible thumper who goes along for the ride and that is fine with me given I generally like her work. She does little to convince a detractor here though and that is too bad.
There is a whole host of awesome cameos and supporting actors on display here and that elevates the film even more. Even smaller, more incidental roles are filled with funny That Guys and character actors. With a roster that includes Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Sigourney Weaver, John Carrol Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor and Steven Spielberg you know you are in good hands.
The downside I mentioned is hard to qualify or put into words and I suspect that if other people had written it I would be less aware of it but there is something missing here that holds it back from being a masterpiece the way Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were. I think maybe it is just not as sharp of satire as those films because it goes instead to sentimentality. This is a love letter to sci-fi films and fiction as well as to sci-fi fans but is maybe a bit too loving about it. Where it could skewer or more deeply comment it embraces and reinforces. That is ultimately okay because it is very funny and very engaging but I would have liked to have seen it be on the same level as the duo’s previous work. Still even bad Pegg and Frost material is better than a lot of writers good material and this is not bad by any stretch of the imagination so it is highly recommended.
Conclusion[8.5 out of 10]
If you are wondering how much Edgar Wright brings to the table with this writing team I would say it was at least 1.5 points. Paul is very funny, well written, well acted and well directed but it is still missing something that Pegg and Frost’s efforts have had in the past. I think it is Wright. If you are a sci-fi fan you will especially enjoy Paul but there is enough humor crammed into the film for the casual fan as well.