What’s the Story?
A deadbeat comic book artist and a deabeat comic book writer go to Comicon in San Diego, then road trip across America. Then they pick up an alien (Paul) who was stranded on Earth in 1947 and help him get back to his mothership. On their way, they encounter a bible-believing woman whose faith is shattered by Paul’s existence.
What’s the Problem?
In a word, Paul. He’s an obnoxious stoner. He’s like the bearded guy from The Hangover, only CGI, which isn’t enough to carry the whole film. Yes, he defies our expectations of a high-voiced, demure Little Grey alien, but that’s not 90 minutes of entertainment. Once you accept “Oh, he’s a jerk”, you need something more to base your film on.
Which is a ptiy, because there’s good stuff in this film. It’s Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. But it’s not up to the quiet brilliance of Shaun of the Dead or the balls-out ridiculous action of Hot Fuzz. It’s better than most comedies, but not a game-changer.
Simon Pegg’s character falls in love with a woman at first glance and, well, she’s not much to look at. She’s not ugly, but she’s not the kind of angelic creature you’d expect a man to go gaga over at first glance.
Then there’s her character. Ruth is a caricature of Bible-camp Christianity. She’s a straw man, her flimsy, un-thought-out beliefs easily shattered by Paul’s very existence… and apparently we’re supposed to empathise or care. Of course that was going to happen! Her faith is flimsy, a repetition of the sheltered-Christian stereotype. Easy comedy fodder that I’d expect to see in teen gross-out movies, not by these guys.
There’s a lot of that in the film: rather than taking a subject seriously, they take the easy way out. Nerds are shown in costume at Comicon, making them an Other that many audience members can’t relate to. Authors are shown as abrasive, fan-hating, attention-seekers. Christians are mindless sheep. The government bigwig is pure cospiracy-theory, end-of-the-world evil.
There’s too many clichés, and they’re too obvious. This duo has never been this obvious or blatant before. Usually there’s a sense of loving what they’re mocking, of delighting in it.
Maybe this time they had to compromise on intelligence so they’d reach a wider American audience so the studio would give them the 15 million dollars required to animate Paul.
Nick Frost also spends much of the movie tagging along. He doesn’t get a strong backstory (neither does Pegg, but he gets a love interest, so that’s okay… right?), and he’s annoyed at Paul for most of the film because… I think it was that Paul is better friends with Pegg, or something. He’s resentful that he’s not better friends with Paul and his solution is to have nothing to do with Paul.
Here’s an idea: if you want to be closer to the alien, try talking to it and being friendly. Quit your moping and solve your easily-solveable problem.
One final problem is the FBI agents. They must have serious learning difficulties, because they both act like four-year-olds for most of the film. Paul can get away with that, because he’s an alien; these guys have no excuse. If we are to believe that the universe of Paul is our universe (and not some parallel dimension filled with morons), why are these two so very dense? You can get away with a bit of that, but nowhere near this much. It’s the believability problem again, but on a grander scale. It’s honestly amazing that anyone lets these two drive a car or tie their own shoelaces.
That’s probably the main let-down compared with Pegg/Frost’s other films: it’s obvious, over-the-top humour more akin to U.S. films like Dumb and Dumber than it is an insightful British comedy. If it wanted to be big and dumb, then one or both of the lead characters needed to be so. Instead, they’re both regular, nerdy guys in a world almost completely filled with simpletons.
The Name Game
Also, naming the film after the title character? And an utterly common name, at that? Way to make it stand out from the crowd, guys.
Absolutely. There are geek references aplenty, it’s Pegg and Frost, and it’s funny and fun, but it doesn’t break the mould the way the films with Edgar Wright did.