It's fair to say that I had high hopes for Paul, and although I'd like to chalk my huge dissapointment in the film down to those initial hopes, it just wouldn't be fair. I'd like to say that Paul is only bad in comparison to previous Frost/Pegg ventures; namely the now legendary Shaun of the Dead, worthy follow-up Hot Fuzz and cult TV holy grail, Spaced - but that wouldn't be true either. Because the fact is, Paul is just bad, no matter which way you look at it.
The primary aim of the film is to capture all the excitement and unpredictability of the traditional road movie, with the appearance of "Paul" the alien granting the plot its higher purpose as a getaway movie. Two guys, a girl and an alien. Put even simpler, it's somewhere between Easy Rider and E.T.
The movie's main downfall is the inherent laziness of its script. Although the "bromance" element is still technically there, the duo's loveable, mooching humour that was so marketable in their first two movies appears stilted and manufactured in their third. The hallmarks of this are all too obvious; the Clive and Graeme characters are routinely mistaken for being a gay couple, there are constant references to their shared awkward childhood, and there are cuddly terms of endearment galore. As both actors reach their forties, you can't help thinking: "Really? Is this all you have?"
|Yes Caroline, it is!|
The overall dullness of the script is not limited to Clive and Graeme. This is a road movie, and like all good road movies, it relies heavily on colourful characters and bizarre, backwater locales. And somehow, in almost two hours of screen time, Pegg and Frost don't manage to come up with a single original entry for either. The audience is treated to the duo's take on bible-bashing red necks, angry red necks, naive red necks, crazy old lady red necks and, of course, homophobic red necks. Every defunct stereotype of the American South is tiresomely trotted out, to the point that the film which spends so much of its time pandering to an American audience ends up alienating at least half of them.
Paul seems to bank on its supposed embracing of nerd culture in defining its likability. However, while Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz lovingly homaged the genres they mimicked, Paul goes for cheap, predictable targets. Nerds like Star Wars? And Alien? Is this news - or even current - to anyone? It feels as if the movie exploits the nerd genre rather then embraces it, striving for the note deftly hit by productions like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and The Big Bang Theory while never achieving the same originality or cleverness.
Perhaps most disappointing about Paul is the overwhelming feeling of lost potential. Cameos by talents such as Jane Lynch, Jason Bateman and Blythe Danner are throw-away at best; baffling at worst. Jeffrey Tambor makes an appearance and outshines most of the performances for the ten minutes of screen time he is granted. Seth Rogen, to his credit, is clearly trying very hard to be the film's comedic lead, but unfortunately lacks the talent to carry the movie. He is a formulaic straight-man actor, forced uncomfortably into the role of irreverent CGI misfit.
|Paul: The least likeable alien since Penelope Cruz|
The fact that this review has rambled on for far longer then a review naturally should says a lot about my respect for the Frost/Pegg duo. While Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Spaced will never date, the continual rehashing of the same character archetypes most certainly will. The sincere hope is that they can recover their original genius. Or better yet- find a new hope entirely.