“Paul” a sci-fi fan’s dream

By Kevin Romani

Although “Paul,” a new film from British comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, may not live up to the expectations previously set by “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead, ” it still offers plenty of laughs and endless allusions for dedicated science fiction buffs.

The story follows an adventure shared by best friends Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost). The two are English natives on holiday, visiting America on a trek that begins at San Diego’s Comic-Con festival. Here, both characters define what it means to be a geek, as they are in utter bliss walking amongst costumed Ewoks, Orcs, and superheroes.

The rest of the trip consists of the two traveling to every spot in the American Southwest where extraterrestrial activities have been rumored to have occurred. At one of these spots, the pair have their very own encounter, as they meet an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). It is in no way a dream come true for the duo, however, as Paul is on the run from the government and needs the help of Graeme and Clive in order to “phone home. ”

The film is a sort of fusion between two groups of prominent filmmakers who have produced some of the more memorable comedies of the past few years. In one corner, Pegg and Frost have made a name for themselves serving as both writers and stars of “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.” The two films paid homage to the buddy cop and horror genres respectively, and lent an incredibly original and dry sense of humor to each story. The two co-wrote and co-star in this film as well, as is evidenced by the similarity of “Paul” to “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” in the way it celebrates its particular genre; this time out, it is the world of science fiction.

In the other corner is Judd Apatow, as “Paul” includes several familiar actors and crew members from Apatow’s large team of filmmakers. Apatow has produced many successful contemporary comedies, such as “Knocked Up” (which he also directed), “Superbad,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” All of these films share a particular style of humor, which is memorable mostly because of the dialogue. The conversations in Apatow’s productions often are witty, crude, and wide-ranging. “Paul” is no different, as the dialogue is full of clever and outrageous language (most of which comes from the title character).

Pegg and Frost may have purposely let their script fall into the hands of veteran Apatow director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), as both are well aware of the box office success that Apatow’s films have enjoyed. “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” are more of cult classics than they are financial hits, unlike Apatow’s recent works. Whatever reason the writers had for incorporating Apatow team members is irrelevant, as the two varying senses of humor blend together well.

The film’s biggest success comes from its fantastic references to past science fiction films. The film borrows exact quotes and scenarios from the likes of “Star Wars,” “Aliens” and the early films of Steven Spielberg, just to name a few. “Paul” is in no way poking fun at these films; instead, it tries to honor them. The references never feel forced, and always fit nicely into the scenes. Some may be predictable, but that is the way sci-fi fans want it.

While this aspect of “Paul” is the film’s greatest achievement, it may also serve as a major problem for the film’s success. Since so much of the film’s humor relies on the audience’s knowledge of previous science fiction films, many casual movie-goers will miss out on some of the jokes. There is plenty of humor that does not involve allusions to other films, but “Paul” is clearly made for the sci-fi buff.

The one major disappointment in “Paul” is its lack of character depth from the two leading roles (Pegg and Frost). Fans of “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” know that a major element of those films’ greatness was the amount of character that went into Pegg and Frost’s roles. In their latest venture, the two are playing caricatures of themselves. It is clear the characters are geeky best friends, but the story does not explore them in any lengthy detail, and they do not change as the film progresses. Since most of the humor does come from the references to other sci-fi works or from Paul himself, it feels that the Graeme and Clive characters are just along for the ride, narrating the story as it goes along.

“Paul” is a buddy comedy, but it is unable to excel in creating a convincing, dynamic relationship between the two lead characters like other recent Apatow productions. A major contribution to the success of “Superbad” was the relationship between the two leads, Seth and Evan. Who could forget the two ending their epic night by drunkenly declaring their love for each other in sleeping bags? There are little to no moments like this in “Paul.” This flaw is not enough to ruin the film, but it is enough to prevent it from being an instant comedy classic.

Overall, “Paul” is a fun and engaging movie that will please many. In the lackluster movie season that is February through April, “Paul” is a bright spot. There are several humorous cameos from both the comedy and science fiction realms that will satisfy audiences. It may not match up to the past works from the actors and creative team, but it is certainly not a failure.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected]