Paul – Movie Review

Has the pop cultural marketplace become over-saturated by geek-chic? How else can you explain how a comedy from popcult satirists Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who brought us such great send-ups as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) can take aim at sci-fi geekdom and produce something so unfunny and cliche? (Perhaps it’s the absence of writer-director Edgar Wright this time round.) In comparison to the aforementioned takes on zombie and buddy-cop movies, this nerd-tastic genre is even more of a wide-open field ripe for comedic fun-poking, and they even picked the perfect place to launch their story: San Diego Comic-con, but you’d think that the GPS navigation on their winnebagos isn’t working the way they’ve veered off into the desert of broad, low-budget road-movie comedy. As a card carrying sci-fi geek, I couldn’t be more disappointed if you told me they’re bringing back Firefly as a daytime talk-show (even that has greater comedic potential).

Anyway, Graeme (played by Simon Pegg) and Clive (played by Nick Frost) are two British buddies who take a long-dreamed-about trip to San Diego for the Comic-con festival and decide to conclude their visit to the US with a road trip to all the site famous to UFO fans. Along the way, they do those typical road trip movie things such as eat in a small-town diner, get in trouble with the local red-necks; inadvertently fall within the radar of law enforcement; catch the eye of a farmer’s innocent daughter (though this time it’s not a farm but a trailer park) and incur the wrath of her Bible-thumping pappy. Last but not least, they pick up a stranded motorist whose care-free ways help them to see their lives in a new way — oh, and he’s a space alien named Paul. Besides that last bit, these are all text-book elements of those road-trip buddy comedies that I really loathe: everything from Dumb & Dumber, to Harold & Kumar, to The Hangover. Unfortunately, relying on such obvious cliches ensures that you can see everything coming from miles and miles away.

Even when they bring the sci-fi elements, such as an alien-hunting Agent Mulder stand-in (played by Jason Batemen), or his mysterious, government-conspiring, ball-busting, female superior (two guesses who she’s played by) there’s virtually no surprise. All that being said, there were a few nice shout-outs to sci-fi geeks (including the wonderful touch of having the band at the honky-tonk bar playing music from the Star Wars creature cantina). Alas, there were also many moments and lines that were clearly meant to be “inside jokes” for the nerd community but simply fell flat (not a single chuckle in my theatre). I wish they’d done more humour about sci-fi, like a great flashback scene where Paul is consulting with film maker Steven Spielberg (in a voice cameo) and giving him all the ideas for the sci-fi classic, E.T.

Paul was very life-like and well-animated in a Gollum-via-Roswell kind of way. It’s too bad that his character is not very interesting. Despite his alien-ness, he acts just like any number of crude, arrested-development poster boys played by Seth Rogen (who here provides the voice). He gets the guys in trouble, he gets them to do reckless things, but they end up connecting with him nonetheless. I guess one of the other things missing from this movie that both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz had was a decidedly British sensibility. Rather than dry, British humour, we end up with a lot of broad, American buffoonery. It’s tragic that potty humour, gay jokes (I don’t know why it’s supposedly humourous that people keep mistaking Graeme and Clive for a couple), and offensive caricatures (I will always tire of Christians being depicted as ignorant, fanatical morons) fill this movie.

I think sci-fi fans have a good sense of humour, and we enjoy laughing at ourselves, but it has to be done in a smart way that “gets” us. For all the space ships and aliens in this comedy, there just wasn’t much intelligent life to be found. (2.5 out of 5)

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