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Monday, August 8, 2011

Paul (2011) - Film Review

Paul is the collaborative work of writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (both most well-known for their performances in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) and Greg Mottola (the director of Superbad and Adventureland).  It is obvious there are two styles at work here.  You have the more chaotic and borderline-slapstick humor of Pegg and Frost sort of clashing with the more dialogue and character-focused direction of Mottola.  There is an interesting dynamic in this film, but it doesn’t feel like it has anything special like any of the films that I listed above.

Paul follows two London natives who visit America for Comic Con and then begin a tour of the states’ most infamous alien hotspots.  While on their travels they have a chance meeting with an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen).  They agree, after a scare and some persuasion, to take him North to aid his safe escape from pursuing government agents played by Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Nelson Ascencio.  Along they way they inadvertently abduct a fundamentalist RV park owner’s daughter named Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig) who’s faith is shaken upon meeting the alien.  Along the way it is learned that Paul has “advised” on many of the most iconic pop culture creations of the last few decades, and is in some way the inspiration for most of the famous aliens we recognize today.  It all culminates in a predictable and completely surprise-free ending that really was very disappointing. 

The performances are good all around here.  Seth Rogen is always likeable and his voice work here is great.  Wiig, Pegg and Frost are their normal entertaining selves as they continue to prove their comedic dominance and Jason Batemen does what he does best, continuing to climb to the top of the A-list.  The problem is, as with most films that include a gimmicky animated character, that the actors aren’t given much to do.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have proven themselves to be comedic geniuses in the past.  They have a pitch-perfect dynamic on screen and the fact that they seem to be holding back here just breaks my heart.  The character Paul is meant to carry this film and this happens at the expense of pushing two extremely talented actors to the back, if only just a little.

That said, I liked the screenplay for Paul.  Pegg and Frost wrote a very funny, clever film with word play that is entertaining and jokes that are both original and laugh-out-loud funny, though they seem just a little subdued at times, especially towards the end.  Given the very funny first and second acts of this film, it puzzles me why they chose to make the third act a derivative chase scene followed by an equally-derivative stand-off.  It goes for the most obvious ending instead of trying to do something unexpected or different, and that is truly tragic.

Most people who know me (and read this blog) will know that I am not a fan of computer animation in films.  I believe it has proven to be the death knell for creativity in movies.  That said, Paul, himself, is well-animated and likeable.  He is a well-written and funny character that I think is worthy of iconic status.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening with this iteration of the story.  As a film, Paul is thoroughly funny, but that’s just about it.  It doesn’t do too much that is particularly clever and I think this comes from the fact that, as I mentioned before, it just seems that it’s a clash of comedic styles.  The screenplay is funny but the movie just feels like its playing it safe, aiming for many of the most obvious clich├ęs and outcome, with only sprinklings of momentary brilliance.

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