Paul

Paul

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ever felt a little alien?

If you find that tagline funny, you will almost certainly enjoy this film. In fact, though it's not on a par with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's best work, it's hard to imagine anybody not enjoying it. This time around, the pair play comic book geeks Graeme and Clive, visiting Comic-Con (where much of the movie was filmed) before embarking on a road trip across America to visit sites associated with UFO sightings. They feel more than a little alien themselves as they penetrate further into a MidWestern culture where their close friendship attracts homophobic threats and everybody seems to be carrying a gun. But this is only the start of it. When a real alien appears, on the run and looking for a lift, the game is on, and it looks increasingly unlikely that they'll ever recover the deposit on their rented RV.


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Paul, as you may have guessed, is the name of the alien. Voiced by Seth Rogen, he's a single-minded guy easily irritated by others' stupidity, but as his story unfolds this becomes more understandable. He's crude yet friendly, impatient with Clive's jealously of his instant bond with Graeme yet willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He needs good friends, since he's being hunted by the Men In Black and, in turn, by their boss - an elegant lady with sinister plans. As Simon Pegg put it in an introduction to the screening I saw, "Sigourney Weaver has a history with aliens."

In this outing, though the familiar element of homoeroticism remains present in the central friendship, a heroine is introduced to complicate matters further. Though she hails from a trailer park and wears a t-shirt that shows Jesus shooting Darwin, Graeme is instantly smitten with the lovely Ruth Buggs. Kristen Wiig adds a quirky sort of depth to what could easily have been a one-joke character. There's also excellent work from the supporting cast, with Jason Bateman hamming it up as a secret agent, Blythe Danner enjoying the film's best (borrowed) line, and Jeffrey Tambor excellent as jaded science fiction writer Adam Shadowchild (a performance which recalls Alan Rickman's work in Galaxy Quest). There are a lot of recycled classic science fiction lines here but the film largely gets away with it due to its sheer good-naturedness. Likewise its approach to the weirdness of geekdom - this is insider humour which finds plenty to laugh at but acknowledges that geeks themselves may not always be as serious about things as they seem. Pegg and Frost certainly know their stuff. Alongside the verbal references are much subtler moments where shots from favourite films are carefully recreated, in-jokes that will please the fans whilst doing nothing to detract from the enjoyment of casual viewers.

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The problem is that the plot which holds all this together is ultimately quite weak - nothing more than a trip from A to B, with very few surprises along the way. Aspects of it feel like filler and there isn't the same constant bombardment of jokes that made Pegg and Frost's previous work so entertaining. But perhaps demanding that it live up to that standard is unfair. It's an entertaining film in its own right, and whilst it might never attain classic status, it seems certain that it will be loved by its core audience for a long time to come.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2011
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Two British comic book geeks visiting America pick up a hitchhiking alien and determine to help him return to his mothership, but the FBI are on their tail.
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Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg

Starring: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK, France

Festivals:

Glasgow 2011

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