I’m a big fan of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road” movies. There is something about a story of two friends gallivanting along getting into hijinks that appeals to me on a primal level. This formula has, of course, been used heavily by Hollywood throughout the years with pop and cult classics like Tommy Boy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and to a lesser extent Wayne’s World. The more recent mid-life crisis movie Wild Hogs also come to mind. Consider if you will Simon Pegg‘s latest film Paul. The concept for the movie in and of itself is good, but when you throw in sci-fi elements and a genuine extraterrestrial I tend to sit up and take notice. When this storyline is combined with my favorite nerdy comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost I just couldn’t say no to opening weekend. I even dragged Tophat along.
The men most known for Shaun of the Dead teamed up again to write the script for Paul, though they appear together for the first time without their favorite director Edgar Wright. The film differs from their previous works by deemphasizing the trio’s British sense of humor. Paul is a decidedly American comedy and who better to direct a modern American comedy than the man who brought us Superbad and three episodes of “Arrested Development,” Greg Mottola. Mottola’s influence comes through in the little gray man’s dialogue, voiced by Seth Rogen. As the flavor of the decade American comedian Rogen provides the film with mainstream notoriety while Mottola’s fellow “Arrested Development” alum Jason Bateman lends to Pegg’s more subtle brand of comedy.
The plot takes a new twist in the “new guy in an awkward scenario” vein by pairing a well-adjusted, if not rude, alien with two British nerds who are clearly out of their element on a “camper van” tour of the many sci-fi conspiracy theory landmarks of the American southwest. For anyone who is a fan of “Spaced,” the BBC 4 show from the late 90’s, you’ve likely come to expect clever pop culture references from Pegg’s writing and he fails to disappoint this time around. In fact, Paul’s similarities to many previous portrayals of aliens and their capabilities are written off in a rather clever way featuring the voice of Stephen Spielberg himself. While Pegg and Frost did their best to stray from the hackneyed road trip gags while paying tribute to an array of sci-fi classics the plot is a bit ho-hum.
The one notable risk the movie takes is in a traditional British lambasting of American fundamentalist Christians. And while the lambasting is thorough, especially from Paul, the fundamentalist Christians are such gross caricatures that any one who would take offense likely hates Charlton Heston’s “The Ten Commandments” for its lack of accuracy and tends to find even Mark Lowry‘s routines a bit risqué. There is one particular line in the final scene that is so over the top it destroys the last scrap of credibility the character was bitterly clinging to with his shotgun and Bible in hand.
Despite all the plot points, cultural references, and bawdy characters, the movie is a comedy, and it is comedy that it delivers. There are a number of lines and instances that literally made me laugh out loud. One would expect a comedy team with 12 years under their belt to be in constant sync with each other and that is a precise description of Pegg and Frost. Not only are they partners in theater, they are best friends in life and this brings them to a level of comfort rarely achieved on-screen. But in the end when the credits rolled I was left with a plot twist I had not seen coming but little else. The movie is certainly funny, but not easily memorable. That being said, I promised Chicabonita I’d see it with her soon, and I’m looking forward to it.