Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review - Paul

How much you enjoy Paul may depend on how much enjoyment you get out of spotting references to other movies. If you do love that sort of thing, then Paul is the picture for you, as Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have filled their screenplay with nods to Star Wars, Aliens, Titanic, Mac & Me, a chunk of the Spielberg canon, Titanic and even Lorenzo's Oil among myriad others. The two earlier films this pair featured together in, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were more successful as spoofs of genre conventions as a whole rather than individual films, but Paul is happier pulling lines and sight gags from more specific targets, an approach that has always seemed a little smug and lazy to me. Still, if you throw enough shit at a wall some of it is going to stick, and Paul's rapid-fire joke delivery does hit the mark every now and then. Pegg and Frost star as a pair of sci-fi geeks touring UFO sites in America who have a close encounter with a real extra-terrestrial. Paul (voiced by a very recognisable Seth Rogen) has escaped from Area 51 and he asks the bumbling nerds to help him get home, which means the film eventually becomes one long chase movie. Greg Mottola may not be a visual stylist in the mould of Edgar Wright, Pegg and Frost's usual collaborator, but he knows how to frame a shot and he knows how to keep the film moving smoothly forward. There are a couple of laugh-out-loud scenes here (mostly involving the reliably funny Kristen Wiig, who can find comedic notes in the thinnest of parts), but it's more often gently amusing in a breezy and forgettable kind of way. Pegg and Frost's genuine bonhomie goes a long way to giving the film some charm, and Paul himself works a lot better than expected, but Paul doesn't quite have the legs to maintain a sense of energy and momentum all the way up to the climax. It feels tired by the end, and the climactic pile-up of movie references feels cheap and unworthy of the fine comic cast. Leave that kind of thing to the Friedberg and Seltzers of this world; the talent involved in Paul should surely be aspiring to something more.