Monday, March 21, 2011

E.T meets Road Trip (Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind was Already Taken): A Review of Paul

     Comic-Con has been integrated into pop culture and has become extremely popular throughout the last few years. For those (non-nerds) unaware of said convention, Comic-Con is a celebration of nerd/pop culture that takes place every year in San Diego. It showcases the year's latest in comic books, scifi/fantasy movies and television and various other similar products that help you in not getting laid. I mention this geek-orgasm-inducing event because if you're not familiar with the festival, than many of the jokes in Paul will soar over your head like a space vessel. The film, which is the latest from the brilliant minds of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a science fiction-road trip buddy comedy with aspects of Superbad, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Fanboys. The film is heartwarming and funny (enough), and although there are chuckles to be had by all, ultimately, Paul doesn't quite reach the heights of the best work by all of the talent involved.
     Speaking of the talent involved, it is immense: the two main characters, Graeme and Willy, portrayed by Pegg and Frost, are two nerds from England who take a holiday to the U.S. to go to Comic-Con and travel in an RV to all of the UFO tourist hot spots. Their nerd fantasy becomes nerd reality when a visitor from another galaxy, Paul, enters their life. If you have seen the trailer for this movie, it wouldn't have taken much to recognize that the alien's voice is none other than Seth Rogen. This is a benefit to the film and also a detriment. I figured that Rogen's voice would become annoying, like nails on a chalkboard, but that simply wasn't the case: Rogen gives some of his most charming work here. But that doesn't change the fact that the alien Paul just is Seth Rogen. He speaks in sarcasm and excessive vulgarity, he smokes pot and is rude but also has lovable moments. He even dresses like a slacker. Although he is amusing most of the time and hilarious sometimes, I can't help but think that a less recognizable voice in the role of Paul would have been more successful. There are other great characters too: without giving too much away, we learn that Paul's spacecraft has crashed a long time ago, and he has just recently escaped his captors and wants to signal a ship to come pick him up. This involves a journey across cities and states. But this isn't all just fun and games. A group of federal agents are after him, two of which are played with wonderful villainy by SNL's Bill Hader and Arrested Development's Jason Bateman. There are a plethora of funny moments in Paul, and I was smiling most of the film. It just wasn't hilarious.
    And...there is a reason for that: it's impossible not to measure this film against the two other Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaborations. Their first, 2004's Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (commence the eye-rolling at another Shaun mention by me) is my favorite comedy of all time. No hyperbole here: I jizz over that shit. Not that I don't love 2007's Hot Fuzz, a comedy homage to the Lethal Weapons, Die Hards, and Bad Boys of the world. I would place Fuzz on my hypothetical Top 25 Comedy list. So the expectations were lofty. And it didn't quite meet them. At the core, it had the potential to be on the podium with the other two. It just didn't surprise me. The jokes were good but not great, and no jokes went as far as the layers upon layers of jokes that are embedded in Shaun and Fuzz. It also didn't have the exciting  direction that the great Edgar Wright brings to the film-making table. But let's not have a dick-measuring contest with two previous masterpieces of comedy. This movie is fun, and it put a smile on my face. At its core, Paul is about living things that just want to make friends until they find their way back home, wherever home may be--something we can all relate to.     (B)

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