Honestly, I thought Simon Pegg and Nick Frost could do no wrong. As actors, I understand some of the drivel they've appeared in separately. But as a duo, they were my comedic stalwarts. So their take on a zany alien movie was already destined for classic status in my head. With Paul, though, my reality check got cashed. Minus a few clever jokes, I couldn't even tell they wrote it. Dammit, America, I'm blaming you.
Comedy and science fiction are rare bedfellows in cinema. I'll admit it's usually for good reason, though I tend to enjoy the combined genre more than it deserves. Paul is Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's clumsy homage to all things sci-fi and young Spielberg. Considering how many projects they've done that come from a quasi-nerd's viewpoint, a different approach should have been used here. They could have just theatrically released the "Change" episode of Spaced where Simon ass-raped Phantom Menace. But this is a Greg Mottola movie, not an Edgar Wright one. Maybe that's the problem.
Best friends Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) cross an ocean to hit up Comic-Con and meet writer Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor). He turns out to be a dick, so the second part of their journey becomes driving across the American Southwest, looking for areas with documented extraterrestrial encounters. They are perfect examples of who an alien would want to encounter, as they’re more open-minded than most. Enter Paul (Seth Rogen), the cursing, smoking, on-the-run alien whose ship crash-landed on a dog in the 1940s. It is initially disconcerting to hear Rogen’s fast-paced talking come from this CGI being, but it smoothes out. Paul has since been used by the government for his advanced knowledge but escaped in an effort to return to his home planet. Now we’ve got ourselves a buddy road comedy.
Of course, this film wouldn’t be complete without adversaries even more over-the-top than our central trio. Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman) is a suit-wearing government pawn chasing after Paul. His name is probably my favorite gag in the movie, which says something about me, and the lack of genuine comedy involved. To be fair, Bateman is perfect here. Tagging along with Zoil are Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), two of the least competent FBI agents in cinematic history. I was shocked to find out that Truglio is capable of annoying the shit out of me. Also, there’s a fairly useless mini-plot involving Gus (David Koechner) and Jake (Jesse Plemons), two rednecks with a grudge against Graeme and Clive.
Paul still can’t be complete without a force-fed faux-mance in the form of Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a Creationist with one working eye and a hyper-possessive father, Moses (John Carroll Lynch). Don’t worry though. Paul “cures” her of her religiousness and her eye problem, and she becomes just as un-P.C. as the rest.
The road trip movie becomes a chase movie, and if you’re following composer David Arnold’s score, you’ll gradually think it’s the most stimulating movie ever. I wish what I watched would have matched what I heard. Small roles from Sigourney Weaver and Blythe Danner add fun credibility, but they come too late. By the end of the movie, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d watched a vaguely exciting comedy, or a vaguely funny adventure.
Not a failure by any means, Paul fell victim to my lofty expectations, becoming just another movie I might watch on cable in the future. Maybe the line readings won’t seem so trailer-ready.
This Blu-ray/DVD set comes with Theatrical and Unrated versions, the differences between which I didn't immediately notice. Feel free not to point them out. As good as the DVD looks and sounds, the Blu-ray transfer is near-perfect, which is good for a film with a CGI character and explosive hijinks.
For the theatrical version, Mottola, Pegg, Frost, Hader, and mostly silent producer Nina Park put out a consistently amusing commentary track. When they aren't side-tracked by impressions and other random comedic riffs, the group shares loads of info about the production and locations, as well as the cinematic references for some of the visual and audio cues. Both discs also share a dull blooper reel, gorgeous picture galleries from Pegg and Frost, and the expected "Simon's Silly Faces" feature that most of his films include. "The Evolution of Paul" builds up Pegg and Frost's initial idea on its trek to being produced. Also, Jeffrey Tambor is great in "Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild?" which clocks in at two miniscule minutes.
The Blu-ray has the bigger chunk of features, all in striking high-def. The "Making of Paul" is split in two 20-minute parts for some reason, but is entertaining throughout as it showcases the usual fluff: conception, casting, and filming. There are eight enjoyable "Behind the Scenes" featurettes which take an hour to go through. More about casting and the picturesque locations. The cast gives their opinions of Greg Mottola. Costumes and wardrobe are discussed. The cast and crew get giddy over the exploding house stunt. Seth Rogen, a short man, and a kid all step in as "Many Pauls." Hader, Wiig, and Truglio improvise "Paul the Musical" on set. And finally, the RV used in the film gets a close-up.
The cast and crew made me think I should have liked this movie more than I did, which happens occasionally. But after multiple viewings, I still can't say I was overly impressed. That said, this set has enough bells and whistles to be truly worth a purchase, or at least a Blu-ray rental. Saying "at least a Blu-ray rental" about a Pegg and Frost film hurts only slightly less than alien anal probing.