We Brits are familiar with the rude but amiable talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, having all seen funny, feelgood-movies-with-an-edge like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and, less successfully, The World’s End. Pegg & Frost have succeeded by virtue of being charming in a loveably helpless, slobbish, blokeish, frightfully modern English kind of way (as opposed to haughty airs and accents in our period dramas), and by writing off-kilter dialogue that makes them something approaching the comic equivalent of Tarantino. Essentially their characters are always P&F in loose disguises, much as Morecambe & Wise movies (see here and here) never convinced you they were playing anyone other than M&W. Ditto the Carry On stars, and so on.
Somewhere inbetween their other movies and side projects, P&F were persuaded to join in a venture to break into the American market, Paul, specifically a comedy pastiche take on alien movies, with various knowing nods and winks along the way, which has P&F typically cast as sci-fi nerds, plus Seth Rogen voicing the eponymous foul-mouthed wise guy alien, Kristen Wiig playing love interest in the form of a hard-line bible-bashing daughter of a camp site, and Jason Bateman as a lunatic FBI guy in hot pursuit. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver, natch. But not their regular collaborator, Edgar Wright, behind the camera; instead, Greg Mottola directs.
On the plus side this gives them further licence to expand their double act, and this is still the same P&F we always knew, though whether this episode works may depend on your view of British-American cross-cultural jokes and taking the piss out of the ET/Close Encounters genre, not to mention the easy target of sci-fi geeks everywhere.
P&F notwithstanding, this is instinctively the sort of movie I don’t like. Granted it has pretty reasonable production values, a neat CGI alien and special effects that are at least moderately convincing and decent performances, though the best bit is that it was scripted by P&F. Had anyone else written it, Paul would have been a total turkey, simply because nobody other than P&F can speak with the P&F voice, just as M&W without Eddie Braben simply would have lacked the magic. As it is, I didn’t think it the best P&F by a long chalk, but Paul is watchable fare and moderately entertaining, just about sustaining its running time without running out of steam.
Paul did pretty good box office and there was talk of a sequel, though I think there is more of a gulf than the Hollywood end realises. Part of the joke is that P&F are fish out of water, to the extent that I doubt very much whether the domestic audience in the Amerivan heartland really gets more than that they are Brits in America to attend a sci-fi congress. Thereafter the focus of humour is on the Rogen alien being rude and speaking earth vernacular, so P&F’s quaint Britishness is relegated to the periphery early on. Somehow that is what I miss most in this caper, so the alien farrago is almost a distraction from Pegg and Frost being Pegg and Frost – though I fully accept others will see it differently.