Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are more than just funny best friends with a penchant for pop culture references, they’re also the dynamic duo from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and (the possibly less well-known BBC series) Spaced. The funny fellows have re-teamed to bring us Paul, a geek-tastic sci-fi pastiche, part homage, part fan fiction, part road trip movie.
It’s a fairly simple premise: what happens when two sci-fi uber-geeks taking a UFO-themed road trip across America come in contact with an actual extra-terrestrial? But, can director Greg Mottola (Superbad) hone in on Pegg and Frost’s writing as well as their usual collaborating director, Edgar Wright? Wright, Pegg and Frost have already demonstrated that they have like-minded sensibilities that seamlessly blend together. Is Mottola on the same plane of pop-culture geekery? Paul is a movie written by geeks, about geeks, for geeks. Now, the question is, what do these two geeks think of it?
BP: Me and the wife are waiting around for a new baby . . . nothing to do but kill time. So, we went to see a road trip movie about a wise crackin’ alien.
AS: You make it sound like you were really looking forward to seeing this movie.
BP: Well, I wasn’t really. Other than the fact that it’s Pegg and Frost, which doesn’t always mean success, I didn’t think Paul looked very good.
AS: Uh, when has Pegg and Frost not been a winning combo?
BP: I guess I mean by themselves . . . and even here I think it could have used the guiding hand of Edgar Wright.
AS: What was your problem with Mottola’s directing?
BP: Nothing in particular, I just think Wright is better. Also, the script could have used a little boost of creativity from Wright as well. My main point is the idea of this movie and the advertisements aren’t that strong. It feels very 90s or worse, like a rip-off of American Dad‘s resident alien.
AS: Well, never mind advertising, cause I don’t care. You think the premise is weak? Does my disinterest in advertising offend you?
BP: Well, before I go down that road, let me say that this is a very enjoyable film. It’s funny and caters almost exclusively to nerds and fanboys alike. But the structure is a little looser than in the Blood and Ice Cream films, and there are more jokes that miss than I’d have preferred.
AS: Yeah, there is definitely a noticeable difference in pace. Wright’s work with Frost & Pegg is a bit more dynamic and energized.
BP: “Loose” is the catch-all word I keep coming back around to. Paul feels loose, there aren’t as many callbacks, and the film isn’t bookended as seamlessly.
AS: Paul does meander, but I feel like most road trip movies do.
BP: Which is kind of where my disinterest in the premise comes from.
AS: So, you’re just not interested in road trip movies?
BP: No no no, you can do an awesome road trip movie, but the guys who so wonderfully spoofed rom-coms and action films decided to do sci-fi and aliens and they stuck it in a road trip movie. It just felt like they could have done something better. Close Encounters and ET are not road trip movies. My other gripe was that Pegg and Frost’s “characters” weren’t much of anything at all.
AS: So, for you, the both the premise and the characters were weak?
BP: Yes, but Paul, the character, was very funny and very well-developed. Even though Pegg and Frost weren’t playing a part more than “nerds,” they are still very funny actors. So, it lifted the weak material up a bit.
AS: I can see that.
BP: What did you like or dislike?
AS: I think I’m on about the same page as you.
BP: What!?! Not again.
AS: The story and characters could have been a bit more defined.
BP: We’ve got to start hating on each other more
AS: Well, I think I liked it more than you did.
BP: Other hit or miss stuff was some of the religious satire. The crazy dad character was rather weak and pointless, except to make it a bit more like The Blues Brothers. Some of the “twists” were also a tad uninspired. And then there’s the whole shaky situation that comes with the use of pop-culture references.
AS: Is having kids making it difficult for you to just have fun at the movies? Cause that’s what it seems like.
BP: I was sitting next to an older woman who was most likely a cat-lady and every time there was a pop culture shout out she had an orgasmic reaction.
AS: You’re reading way into a comedy about a stoner alien. We’re talking about the movie, not the audience.
BP: What? My point is that the appearance of a reference is not in-and-of itself funny. And this film had plenty of shout outs that made me grin, but not guffaw like the woman next to me. You follow me?
AS: Yeah. And they’re not all supposed to make you laugh. But the lady next to you kept laughing, and that bugged you. But we’re not reviewing the audience, we’re reviewing the movie. And the movie wasn’t trying to make you laugh at every reference. That lady is just retarded.
BP: So, it did seem to rely more on the specificity of the references rather than the general lampooning of alien films. Now you follow me?
AS: I’ve been following you. I just don’t agree. You’re jaded by the retarded lady.
BP: She was a cat lady, I think
AS: Forget the lady!!! I’m here to talk about Paul.
BP: Look, I’m picking it apart, but you’re right. End of the day, it’s a stoner alien movie. You’re going to laugh and have a good time. I’m just slightly disappointed because of how good these guys other films have been . . . and yes, sitting next to annoying people will have a negative impact on you.
AS: Ok. Now that that’s out of the way, Jason Bateman was pretty bad-ass.
BP: Yeah, I will co-sign to that.
AS: I’m a grown up. I don’t need a co-signer anymore. You can concur, though. I concede that you may concur.
BP: I concur then, just don’t shank me.
AS: I’ve never shanked anyone in my life.
BP: But you’ve thought really hard about it.
AS: Only when they keep talking during a movie. Anyway, Bateman’s character made me want to see him kick some more ass. I’d like to see Bateman in a Grosse Pointe Blank kinda movie.
BP: I just want the next Wright film or Attack the Block or Tin Tin. This was a nice seat filler for those films, how about that for a blurb? Did you catch the Capturing the Friedmans reference?
AS: In this movie?
AS: Nope. Never saw Capturing the Friedmans.
BP: It was a random reference, but funny. Anyways . . . Paul is funny but not great. Grade: B-
AS: I figured you’d go lower than that.
BP: No, it’s funny. Remember?
AS: Yes, I remember. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it meanders. Yes, the characters are a bit weak, but the actors are funny and make up for it. Yes, Mottola’s lackadaisical directing doesn’t seem to lend itself to Pegg and Frost’s more formulaic writing style as well as it did to with Rogen & Goldberg’s more open-ended, improvisational writing.
BP: Yes, Bryan is always right!!!
AS: No, Bryan is not always right. Sometimes, maybe, but not always.
AS: I don’t lie. I enhance the truth. But that’s not what I’m doing now.
BP: Enhance to the point, Ebert. It’s lunchtime!
AS: And I’ve got a Netflix Instant queue bursting at the seams. So, I concur. Paul is funny but pales in comparison to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Grade: B-