17 August 2011 | bob the moo
Mainstream but enjoyable sci-fi comedy
When they were promoting Paul, I had heard Pegg and Frost discussing the film and they made a comment regarding the fact that nobody was just going to give them 50 million dollars and let them do whatever they wanted to do at risk of a loss. Also in their minds I would guess was the fact that colleague Edgar Wright had been given freedom to make Scott Pilgrim which, although really good, didn't perform box office wise. As a result of this comment I was sort of prepared for this film not quite to be as British or as smart as their previous work on things like Hot Fuzz and of course Spaced; turned out I was right to be ready for this but wrong to assume it would make a bad movie.
Paul isn't a bad movie at all, it is just a pretty average and mainstream one. The laughs are solid and the action enjoyable but it does rather lack edge and bite when it has the opportunity to do so. Instead it seemed much more mainstream and easy than I expected it to be. The film really only takes shots at far right Christian extremism and they probably weren't going to be queuing up for this film in the first place. Outside of this the film goes for good general laughs so we have a rude alien who is essentially Seth Rogen and lots of action with comedy blended in – and it gets these good general laughs and produces a perfectly fine mainstream comedy. Sci-fi references are throughout the film but even these are hardly very clever or obscure (even my girlfriend got most of them); I still found them funny but again I got the feeling that the film was trying to make sure that it was as broadly appealing as possible, as opposed to the slightly more arch comedy that the two have done previously.
It does still work though because I laughed more than I expected to and even when I didn't it had a broadly amusing tone to it that entertained me and kept the mode consistent. A big part of this is that Rogen's Paul actually works well. Primarily as an effect he is great because you quickly forget he is an effect. Secondly though he works because he is likable and funny – and I say this as someone who can take or leave Seth Rogen's limited range. He is a good character and he has good presence. Pegg and Frost play it safe mostly. Pegg appears to be channelling Ricky Gervais' awkwardness but not to as much success – he is good but he has been better elsewhere. Frost plays his usual shaggy-dog character and he also does reasonably well with it even if some of his material isn't up to much. Wiig is nice in support and her unconvincing cursing is very convincing. Bateman was enjoyable as ever (he deadpans up there with the best of them), Weaver allows for several good sci-fi references and the support cast feature turns from Lynch, Tambor, Koechner and a few others doing solids.
Overall I expected little from Paul but yet it was funny and enjoyable. The laughs were solid but outside of them it kept its tone well and made for a mostly safe and enjoyable mainstream comedy. I hope that both Pegg and Frost benefit from it though – and benefit in terms of a little bit more trust and freedom because Spaced, Hot Fuzz, Shaun and so on all show they can produce classics when given the chance. Paul is not one of their classic but by all means it is a really enjoyable mainstream comedy.