I will kick off by saying I have been a huge fan of the work of Messrs Pegg and Frost since the early days of Spaced (yes, I was hipster enough to like them before they were cool, there’s a first time for everything). Shaun of the Dead (2004) is probably the ultimate zombie movie, managing to squeeze laughs, thrills and genuine characterizations into a homage. Hot Fuzz (2007) is silly – in a good way – and takes the piss out of the buddy-buddy cop genre very well. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the same team were making a sci-fi/alien film, complete with ET-ish animated character. Imagine my disappointment when I quickly realized on first watch that it was a bit crap.
I’m not going to reveal too much of the plot, save for the fact that Pegg and Frost play two geeks on the road after a ComiCon in Las Vegas. They bump into a girl and her fundie father and eventually happen upon the alien, Paul – after which hilarity is no doubt meant to ensue. While it wasn’t terrible, there were a few things that let it down, namely:
The by-now-tiresome references and in-jokes: These were stock in trade for Spaced and worked extremely well, given the half-hour format and smash cut, gag-a-minute style of the comedy. The zombie nods in Shaun of the Dead were both expected and welcome, given that it was the first time anyone had seriously tried to make something original around the genre (no, Zack Snyder, yours was rubbish). Hot Fuzz again set out – purposefully – to include every conceivable cop drama cliché and succeeded with aplomb. Greg Mottola’s Paul (2011) fails to deliver on these earlier promises, largely because it’s a stand-alone piece and not a montage of successful genre pieces.
The taking of the Hollywood shilling: I know we all have to eat and I don’t begrudge film-makers from getting funding however they can, as that’s how this business ticks over. I do feel that in getting some obviously hefty studio backing for Paul, Pegg and Frost compromised on their usual low-budget feel and went straight for the widescreen Technicolor option. Thank God they didn’t shoot it in 3D, even as a joke. While their previous efforts have been conspicuous by their Britishness, the cheaper production and some really sublime casting, they appear to have handed this control to other ‘professional’ people. these pros have just done a cookie-cutter job on casting and production and taken the soul out.
Weak or flawed characterization: Paul himself (played and voiced by Seth Rogen) is amusing only in a forced way. Admittedly, some of his gags, and many of them in the movie, are properly funny, and reveal what the team can really do with a script. The whole premise, though, reminds me of The Simpsons when the TV execs fictionally drafted in the Poochie character to boost flagging ratings after the show had ‘jumped the shark’. Pegg and Frost are usually funny by themselves and didn’t need to hand off all the lines to Rogen. Many of the gags seemed shoehorned in and the trademark interplay between the shared leads just missed by a long shot. A tragic waste of the lead female, Kristen Wiig, as well as Sigourney Weaver and the vocals of none other than Steven Spielberg. they could easily have done so much more.
The atheist rant: I expect you are thinking I’m about to out myself as a fervent believer at this point. I’m not. I am an atheist. However, the film’s agenda seems to be heavily centred around how atheism is the only way forward and that organized religion (in this case, Christianity) is stupid and blinkered. Line after line of vitriol is heaped on Christians, their characters are poorly drawn and we are supposed to believe that they are deluded.
Sorry, but I’m not one of those atheists. I can make time for anyone until they personally piss me off – there’s no need to trample on people because of their beliefs. If the Christians were black, Chinese or female, there would be outcry about the bias in this film, and with good reason. I know there are some thick-as-pigshit religious types out there and that they lead people to do weird things but the same could be said of many atheists. Let’s all try to get along, eh? the ‘waste’ of Kristen Wiig I mentioned earlier is her Damascene (I did that on purpose) ‘conversion’ to atheism providing the central thrust of the movie, leading her to some truly embarrassing set-pieces that she can only reconcile by looking at the payslip she got.
If you don’t mind shoehorned agendas, populist, de-barbed humour and have not much else going on, give it a watch. It’s certainly OK if you can get past all that. I couldn’t.
104 mins. In English and Klingon (a few words).