Friday, March 13, 2015

Paul

You may have read that I'm a big fan of the pairing of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, namely their "Cornetto" trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD'S END). In 2011 the Brits decided to make an American comedy, tackling another popular genre: science fiction. Pegg and Frost wrote this new film but their countryman Edgar Wright did not direct. This duty was handed to Greg Mottolla, best known for SUPERBAD.  The result, 2011's PAUL, comes with great expectations.

It pains me to report that the effort should've remained across the pond.  In my "Corenetto" reviews I explained how disheartening American comedies have become, and how refreshing U.K romps remain. It's too tiring to go through the explanation again, but PAUL lays it out in such a textbook disappointment that while I'm not recommending this movie, seeing it may be the best way for you to get my points. The blame does not fall solely on Mottolla, but he certainly frames it all in the unfortunate style of any recent assembly line comedy ala THE HEAT, HORRIBLE BOSSES, the HANGOVER trilogy, IDENTITY THIEF, etc. All witless sarcasm and easy destruction gags, let's-outdo-the-last-picture gross out jokes, and smothered in pop culture references. Many of these films star Jason Bateman and/or Kristen Wiig (PAUL does in fact feature both). What strikes me about these films, for all of their technical skill, is how lazy they are. No one seems interested in inventiveness, timing, nuance, or anything else that makes a comedy, you know, funny.

Paul is a miniature CGI alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who talks like a typical Gen-Xer. He says the occasional funny thing, but mostly I was slapping my forehead. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are two men-children, in the States for a comic book convention, who happen upon the little guy in the desert afterward during a road trip. They also meet two stereotypically loony fundamentalist Christians, Ruth (Wiig) and her father Moses (John Carroll Lynch), who are mocked at every opportunity. In fact, the anti-Christian jokeload is far higher in this movie than most slob comedies, even BUBBLE BOY.  Pegg and Frost have some real issues, it seems.  While I'm not opposed to the ribbing of religions and customs, much of the humor here just seems bitter.

On our heroes' trail is a Secret Service agent Zoil, played by Bateman,  again doing the same wiseass smuggery he can probably do in his sleep by this time. Zoil has been appointed to capture Paul, eventually revealed to have been working for the government.  Now the little guy just wants to go home.

Pegg and Frost shoulder plenty of blame for deliberately writing such a unambitious farce. The crudeness of the screenplay is so obviously tailored to American sensibilities it's downright cynical, but seemingly without self-awareness of its cynicism.  It really thinks it's a funny and smart farce.  Aside from a few mildly amusing running gags, it's just D.O.A.  And Sigourney Weaver, maybe cool it with these wink-wink cameos of late?

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