Thursday 8 December 2016

Movies: Paul **

(15A, general release)

Paul Whitington

Published 18/02/2011 | 05:00

In Paul, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost attempt to transplant their winning comedy formula to American soil. Shaun of the Dead had little impact at the US box office, but their last collaboration, Hot Fuzz, did considerably better, prompting Universal Studios to give their backing -- and a hefty $50m budget -- to this fanciful little project.

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As usual, Frost and Pegg play a pair of retarded nerds, this time science-fiction buffs who embark on the journey of a lifetime when they travel to America to attend the San Diego Comic-Con event.

Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are beside themselves with excitement as they mingle with fellow Trekkies and Star Wars nuts and manage to get a famous science-fiction writer's autograph. Then they hire a camper van and set out across Nevada and New Mexico to visit the most famous sites of supposed alien landings. After an unfortunate encounter with a pair of rednecks in an alien-themed diner, Clive and Willy are coasting along Nevada's Route 375 when a car spins out of control and crashes in front of them.

When they stop to investigate, they are shocked to discover that the driver is a little green alien. 'Paul' (voiced by Seth Rogen) is a suave and talkative extraterrestrial who has gone on the run from a federal institution where he has been held since he accidentally crash-landed on earth some 60 years before. For decades his existence has been a closely guarded secret, but when Paul discovered that the authorities were planning to remove his brain to find out how it worked, he decided he'd overstayed his welcome.

Though initially flabbergasted, Willy and Clive agree to help him travel to Wyoming, where he hopes his people will answer his distress call and save him. Along the way they endure various adventures and, at a lonely trailer park, they pick up another passenger.

Ruth (Kristen Wiig) has been raised piously by her gun-toting, insanely Christian father, Moses (John Carroll Lynch). But her faith is shaken when she stumbles on Paul, and when Willy and Clive benignly abduct her because she's a witness, she and Willy take a shine to one another.

But as they race to Wyoming a sinister government agent called Zoil (Jason Bateman) is hot on their trail, and so is Moses, who is determined to kill the little green man that ran away with his daughter. A strong supporting cast includes Bill Hader, Jane Lynch, Blythe Danner and Sigourney Weaver, but somehow, and in spite of all its hectic energy, Paul fails to take off.

I have a theory as to why: Pegg and Frost's nerdy humour is quintessentially English and hesitant; in Paul they have written not only for themselves, but a galaxy of middle American characters, and they have done so self-consciously, and awkwardly.

Geeky English jokes ring hollow in the mouths of even such accomplished comic performers as Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig. Minor characters are wildly inconsistent, and what we get is a picture of America as viewed by Brits who have spent a wet week there.

Pegg and Frost might argue that this is part of the film's point, but I don't think so. In any case, all of these cross-cultural issues would quickly have been forgotten if Paul was funny enough -- sadly, it most definitely isn't.

The CGI alien himself is well enough done, but while he initially promises to be a John Belushi-style extraterrestrial who farts and drinks and tells unseemly jokes, Paul turns out to be a laidback, pot-smoking bore with a smugly irritating west-coast drawl.

And once it's established its promising premise, Pegg and Frost's film goes precisely nowhere, and ends up making unfunny references to ET, Close Encounters and Star Wars. These easy allusions are the last refuge of the extraterrestrial scoundrel, and by the time Paul prepares to take off, the film has long since exhausted its potential. Pegg and Frost can do better than this, but maybe not in America.

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