Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still Raggin' on Ewoks

Feeling alienated?

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.


  1. Let's get this out of the way. I liked Paul, in fact, I really liked Paul. But I knew from the get go that it was going to a very different experience to watching a movie made by the Holy Trinity that is Wright, Pegg and Frost.
    It's not perfect, but then again, neither was Hot Fuzz. The buddy archetype was actually a little stretched in that, but it never became the same bugbear that it did you, it seems.
    Your own interpretation of what exactly being a nerd is flawed if you find it incomprehensible why nerds would still find things like Aliens or Star Wars references. They're nerd classics for a reason. It was less about about nodding to audience than a nod to the fact that the love for those things will probably never go away.

    Comparing it to Scott Pilgrim is a little out of step as Pilgrim was never about nerds to me. The video game refs were awesome, of course, but that's not really why the film worked so well for me.

    Good points well made, though. Even if I totally disagree with the conclusions.

    Really like the new background, actually- very eye catching and seems to really suit the tone of your stuff.

  2. Neither me nor you are in any position to speak for what "nerds" do and do not like, currently or otherwise. Treating a loosely defined social group like it has specific trends in its preferences is far too narrowing, and thats what I thought the scope of this movie was. Narrow.

    I'm just saying that Frost and Pegg were referencing the same movies ten years ago, in much the same manner. Whether that approach is "classic" or "tired" is obviously in the eye of the beholder, and I can see in this case, trying to convince you would be a wasted effort! And no, Scott Pilgrim didn't reference the same type of media, but I saw it as being a movie very much about the nerd love. I mean, it was pretty much religiously transcribed from the original graphic novels. (And what's nerdier then graphic novels?) And you couldn't turn without seeing some kind of reference to Sega or Nintendo. Wright even had to pay an obscene amount of money just to get the rights to The Legend of Zelda theme tune.

  3. Considering most of the people I hang out with would gladly accept that they would (proudly, I might add) fall into that same loosely defined grouping, I think I might be in a better position to comment. Call it field research. And I can smell the sociology student in you at work- the word "grouping" "trends" set off alarm bells in my head.

    I'm not saying all people who love nerdy stuff will love this film, you're clearly not impressed with it! Rather, the circle of people I move through seem to have undying fondness for the things this movie nods to, so I only speak from my own "narrow" personal experience.

    Ah, adapted faithfully and "transcribed" are too very different things. Volume 6 had very little resemblance to the film's final act other than bare basic plot points.
    No Great White North sequence, for example. Kinda lazily shooing Nega Scott out the door (which is forgivable considering how much they had to cram into the movie), but for all that, I actually prefer the movie.

    For one thing, I didn't actually come to despise the characters as I did in the books-some of it was painful to read. Still enjoyable,but very hard for me to relate to or even desire the continued existence of some of them. Including Scott, I might add. Volume Four was my nadir. The whining and the posturing was making my eyes bleed. Wright distilled the essence of what is so great about Pilgrim, and I think that's what Pegg and Frost were going after.
    I'm not saying they totally succeeded, and the dialogue can be clunky in places and yes, the awkward bro-mance is pretty familiar territory for them. I went in hoping for a laugh, what I got was actually above expectation.

    I'd like to make it clear I can totally see where you're coming from, and that is a very insightful post.
    Bring on the next Blood and Cornetto movie, though.