As big a fan as I am of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it should come as no surprise that I was eagerly looking forward to Paul. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together again was all I needed to hear. I was aware director Edgar Wright was not a part of the movie, but that was only a slight deterrent. After watching Paul I think I have a better idea of how important he is to this team’s success. With Edgar Wright, they made two outstanding movies, without him, they made a fairly good movie. Paul is not bad, but it does not come anywhere near the quality of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz.
Comparing Paul to Pegg and Frost’s previous movies is both easy and apt. As with those, Paul is a parody that also works as a fine example of the movie type being parodied. Shaun of the Dead works as both a comedy and a zombie movie; the same is true for Hot Fuzz, albeit with buddy cop action movies. Paul is both a humorous send up of Sci-Fi movies, especially the works of Spielberg, as well as a good Sci-Fi movie in its own right. Somehow, the movie does not come together as well as the other two.
The biggest failing is on the comedy side. For a comedy, Paul is surprisingly short on laughs. The alien story works well. Paul, voiced by Seth Rogan, is a foul-mouthed E.T. Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), two British science fiction nerds, are just the sort who would help him try to escape from his captors. Their attempts to evade capture work. But the jokes often fall flat. They try to do pot jokes, but they do not work. They try gratuitous cursing and I expected better. The only jokes that really work are the references to other sci-fi movies. They are incredibly frequent, but still weaved into the movie mostly seamlessly. Paul requests Reece’s Pieces during a gas stop and it took me a few moments to realize it was an E.T. reference. If you have never seen E.T., it won’t seem out of place, just the alien asking for candy. (Though if you haven’t seen E.T I suggest you remedy that.) These references are more likely to get a small chuckle than a big laugh, but they go a long way in keeping this movie amusing. While it never rises to any real hilarity, Paul is genially humorous throughout.
One thing the movie does well is its treatment of the nerds and of the old sci-fi movies. While the main characters are frequently referred to as nerds and do exhibit some the standard nerd behavior, they are much more likeable characters than the usual movie nerds are. They treat the characters’ nerdiness not as something to be embarrassed by but as a simple description. The sci-fi references, as mentioned earlier, are also respectful. Often parodies treat the works they are mocking with sheer contempt. Paul’s treatment of old sci-fi movies, though, borders on reverent. The jokes are never at their expense. Paul is not about mocking old sci-fi, it is about celebrating it. That is where the movie really shines.
Paul is not a masterpiece. It is not a classic. It is simply a mostly enjoyable comedy. Coming from whom it does, this is something of a let down. It is a comedy that is not particularly funny, but it is intelligent and well made enough that it remains generally enjoyable throughout. Your enjoyment may be dependant on how well you know 1970’s and 80’s science fiction movies, but those who have fond memories of Star Wars, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, among others, will be amused throughout. Paul is a worthy addition to the Pegg and Frost oeuvre, if a lesser one.