I was completely blown away by “Paul,” the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg and directed by Greg Mottola. Wait, wait though; I wasn’t blown away in a good way, oh God no. In fact, just the opposite is true. As “Paul” dragged on and on up on the big screen, I was simply stunned how unfunny, lame, stupid and boring the film was, and with the cast and director involved, I still cannot see how this happened. While I cannot claim I was lied to by the trailers or ads running up to the film’s release, I guess I just expected more from an “R” rated, geek-friendly, sci-fi comedy film than this kids film doused in cuss words and gay jokes in an ill-fated attempt to seem edgy.
“Paul” is about best friends and total geeks Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) who travel all the way from Merry Ole England to San Diego to partake in the biggest movie junket…errr…fan festival on the planet, Comic-Con. They hit “the Con” and it’s everything they could have ever expected but the duo, being bigger geeks than the rest, have added adventure into their trip by renting an RV to traverse the greatest UFO landmarks in the U.S. Their trip starts off as planned with lots of cool sightseeing but soon a situation occurs and the two find themselves saddled with a third member on their trip: a small, wisecracking space alien named Paul (Rogen).
Paul is the original Area 51 alien and he’s been kept around the planet since the crash so the government and other higher-ups can pick his brain for information. Paul’s sassy, flip and foul-mouthed and, not only that, he smokes cigarettes and weed! Hah! Hilarious! He manages to convince Graeme and Clive to drive him to Wyoming so he can make his escape from earth and off we go on an idiotic chain of events that seems crafted to only entertain geek bloggers, Comic-Con obsessives and those with bad taste in comedy and/or head injuries. Look, I’m as big a movie fan as anyone (well, almost anyone) but “Paul” just isn’t funny and the constant barrage of geeky sci-fi references and hat-tips to 80’s cinema do little to blur out a dumb, kids movie that could have and should have been much better.
Throughout the film, Frost, Pegg and Mottola almost break the fourth wall with their winks and nods to 1980’s cinema, comic book detritus, science fiction and other “nerdcentric” properties. Yes guys, we get that you just did a nod to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Yes, we heard the 5-note chimes from “Close Encounters.” Yes fellas, we see you’re paying lip service to the movies of the 1980’s that you, and we, loved as kids. But then what? I kept waiting for something funny to happen and instead was treated to jokes about guys being gay (4 times), seeing something shocking and falling over backwards (3 times) or dudes being kicked in the nuts (3 times). What drew me to “Paul” was the people involved and the fact that this could have been a genre film pushing the envelope but instead, it’s just plain boring.
I’m a huge fan of Pegg and Frost but here their chemistry, which has always been along the lines of a brasher Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, is completely nonexistent. There’s little tension between them and, as a result, little comedy. Rogen is actually fine as Paul and I thought the CGI used for his character was pretty well done. The immediate supporting cast of Jason Bateman as an uptight government official and Kristen Wiig as a one-eyed Jesus freak are totally wasted and giving these two talents nothing to do but chew scenery is just one of this films many missteps. Even the third level characters are great comedy actors (Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch) who are given nothing to do onscreen but speak in clichéd platitudes that, in a better film would give Pegg and Frost characters to play with and bounce off of but here, come off like farts in the wind.
I hope “Paul” doesn’t represent the tip of the iceberg for annoying films that cater to the Comic-Con crowd. This group cannot do anything but open a film (barely) and the resulting films are so specialized they’re nearly pedantic. Great films that live on as classics in movie geek culture become that way because of the passion, storytelling and characters filmmakers create. Setting out to create a film that will inspire dressing up, quoting and using of catch-phrases is like giving yourself a nickname; it never works. It has to happen organically, through the film and resulting reaction. Dumbing down films to simply appeal to the base nature of a niche crowd reeks of corporate mentality and in the end, tarnishes and makes fun of the geek movie freak crowd. This in turn waters down the integrity of the film and it’s target audience. Had “Paul” sought to be a little more rough on this crowd, it could have worked. Had “Paul” sought to be an actual “R” rated movie that didn’t softball it with swear words and stupid sexual innuendo, it could have been so much better. In the end I know “Paul” is rather critic proof as it’s supposed to be a silly and dumb flashback to goofy sci-fi of the 1980’s but what hurts was just how unfunny it was. “Paul” could have been “Monster Squad” and instead comes off as “Meatballs 2.”