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USA 2011
Directed by
Greg Mottola
104 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are two UK science fiction geeks who’ve come to the USA for Comic Con and a road trip to various alien abduction sites. On their way to Roswell, they stumble across Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an honest-to-goodness alien on the run from the government. Shenanigans ensue

It’s interesting to see how far CG characters have come. Just a few years ago people would be making a huge deal out of the fact that a photorealistic CG character is the star of a film. But now, it’s just accepted as something that can be done, and no big deal is made of it. Part of that is to do with how well Paul is performed. With Rogen’s voice-work and the superb effects, Paul feels like just another actor on camera. It wasn’t until afterwards that this struck me. We’ve come a long way from Jar Jar Binks.

But onto the film itself. From the pen of Pegg and Frost, a double act going back to the excellent television series, Spaced, this is a road movie for that most under-serviced of all audiences, the science fiction geek. Well, actually, considering how many comic book adaptations and alien invasion films we’ve had lately, maybe that’s not the case. But watching Paul, you get the feeling that maybe that’s what the filmmakers were thinking. Crammed chock full of visual nods, quotations from other SF films and some cameos that will definitely make you chuckle, this is full-on geek fest. And to be honest, it’s kinda distracting. Towards the end the dialogue begins to feel like a cut-and-paste job from Star Wars, Close Encounters etcetera, etcetera. It’s a shame, because the core plot is interesting and well developed, even though  savvy viewers will pick almost every twist long before it happens.

There is another problem, namely that whilst the plot rockets along brilliantly the characters don’t always keep pace. When some of the characters speak, you can discern clever ideas struggling to escape, but they’re not quite strong enough to make it. Jason Bateman as a Man in Black hunting down Paul is great, but his offsiders, played by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Trugilo, are underdeveloped, making their antics mostly annoying rather than amusing. Similarly, we know that Clive is a science fiction writer struggling with his follow-up to an award winning first novel because once or twice it’s mentioned. But that’s about it, and while it’s obvious that current events will become the inspiration he needs, it would’ve been nice to see that writer’s block built up a little to give a bit of oomph to the punchline at the end. The characters are mostly hostages to the situation, plot being more important, and once Paul takes centre stage, they fade away somewhat.

There’s also something that’s a little unpleasant in the film, which happens when they meet Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a fundamentalist Christian they accidentally kidnap when she sees Paul and has her entire faith shaken. Fundamentalist Christians are comical at the best of times, but there’s something a little mean-spirited about the way they are treated here. The tone is a bit nasty and completely at odds with the generous spirit shown to every other oddball or villain in the film. Even the rednecks who pick a fight with Clive and Graeme, used to great comic effect, aren’t treated so poorly.

The tone and balance issues stop this from being a four to four and a half star film. But that’s not to say it isn’t a heap of fun. It really is. It’s not up there with Shaun Of The Dead, but it’s still a fun road movie full of great situations, funny dialogue and loveable characters. They’re not as well developed as I’d hoped, but then my expectations were raised high by the pedigree of the filmmakers. I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Paul. Frost, Pegg and Mottola on an off day is still light years ahead of most other guys at the top of their game.




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