Not too long ago I watched the Disney remake of “Race to Witch Mountain.” The movie stars The Rock as a cab driver who picks up two teenage aliens in human form who must find a way back to their ship in the Nevada desert while on the run from government agents amidst a comic-book/sci-fi convention. Now, you must be wondering why I even bring this up but I couldn’t help but think of the plot structure of this film, which is already a remake while watching “Paul.” Replace teenage aliens with a foul-mouthed/stoner Seth Rogen and a bulky Dwayne Johnson with dweebish Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, ante up the PG rating to an R and you’ve got the movie “Paul”
Being a long time fan of Pegg and Frost, I was intrigued to see how they fared without Director Edgar Wright. I was also intrigued by the collaboration between them and Superbad director Greg Molotta with Seth Rogen doing voice acting in a sort of R-rated E.T. spoof written with geek pride by the two main characters. I found myself enjoying the trailer and all the supporting characters alongside the always winning team of Frost/Pegg, I still sat in the theater with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised but not completely won over.
The first act of the film is easily the weakest spot, the film begins with Pegg and Frost as Graeme and Clive, two brits who come to America for Comic-con and decide to take a side road-trip in a busted up RV to check out famous Alien crash sites (Area 51 etc.) The opening is stacked with cameos (Jane Lynch and Jeffrey Tambor) and never quite finds its footing to have any laugh-out loud moments. The opening is amusing and had me smiling, just to see the two main characters geeking out over movies and comic-books, but I wasn’t laughing, and started to become anxious waiting for some true laughs instead of being bogged into the strange bromance between Pegg and Frost, which should feel extremely organic, but for some reason feels forced in this movie.
Once, Paul the alien enters the mix, the movies finally finds its laughs. Seth Rogen, as annoying as he can be sometimes is a good choice for Paul, and has some of the best one-liners of the film. His cgi character is believable, although I wasn’t sure why he wore cargo shorts. His stoner antics and satire of perception of Alien life forms in America injects some much needed energy in the film, and plays off well against our two heroes. The addition of the one-eyed bible thumping Kristen Wiig is also a highlight of the film, although the strange, forced romance with Simon Pegg never quite becomes believable, and doesn’t do much to disapprove the film’s accusations of their homosexual relationship. Many of the cameos/small roles for recognizable comedians are hit and miss. A miss would be David Koechner’s bland typecast redneck/homophobe character. However, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as bumbling secret agents are a hilarious pair and have some of the film’s most memorable lines and moments. Jason Bateman also steps up as a badass secret agent out to retrieve Paul. Bateman, who can portray a know-it-all lame character is actually welcome as a badass agent with information on a need-to-know basis. Some of the other cameos I won’t spoil, but are a fun addition. Many other little sci-fi/movie references provided extra enjoyment. (loved the Catina Star Wars music) The action in this film which given the material could have been generic fodder but is also surprisingly suspenseful and exciting, which is definitely what I was expecting to be some of the film’s most memorable scenes, which include some R-rated gunshot wounds. Which also brings me back to Race to Witch Mountain, which has a nearly interchangeable last half hour with Paul, except it has swears and blood. Maybe it was intentional?
The formula that has worked for Pegg and Frost in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, is that Pegg is the goofy, lovable straight man, who we can relate to, and Frost is his teddy bear, screw-up sidekick. They are a modern day Abbott and Costello. The film’s biggest fault is making both of these characters straight men to a cgi Seth Rogen, so the magic of the friendship just isn’t the same. Maybe just Simon Pegg and Paul would have been sufficient, or two American actors with Paul, or even a live-action Seth Rogen. You could spend all day contemplating what would have improved it, but at the end of the day we are left with an R-rated fanboy sci-fi road comedy, which I am a key demographic for all of the above. Ultimately, the film entertained me, and I guess that’s all I can really ask for…except maybe stick to working with Edgar Wright.