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Paul
UKScreen Rating:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Two British sci-fi geeks, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are making a road-trip across the US, taking in sites familiar to UFO-fans, including Area 51 and Roswell.

No amount of study, preparation or hope can prepare them for the close encounter of the third kind they have when a three-foot tall big-headed little-green-man, Paul (Seth Rogen) escapes from a government facility and hitches a ride in their RV.

Graeme takes to their unexpected guest more readily than a more cynical Clive, but they agree to help their wise-cracking, fast-talking hitch-hiker rendez-vous with the space-ship that will finally take him home, decades after he first arrived on earth and kidnapped a young girl’s dog.

With police (Bill Hader) and the FBI (Jason Bateman) on their tail, and a one-eyed evangelical farmer’s daughter (Wiig) they pick up on the way trying to reconcile the existence of an extra-terrestrial with her christian upbringing, the pair’s trip-of-a-lifetime turns out to be rather more of an adventure than they could have dreamed of.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Real-life best friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, whose on-screen chemistry has blossomed from TV’s Spaced to the big screen’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have become one of British cinema’s most hotly anticipated double-act. But the one other common denominator in those productions was director and co-writer Edgar Wright.

Without Wright’s comic precision and self-mocking sense of bitter irony, Paul entertains, but fails to live up to the high expectations it sets itself. Pegg and Frost’s writing successfully and lovingly parodies every sci-fi hits from Close Encounters to ET, Alien and Back to the Future, but it feels more like a string of knowing sketches, than any kind of structured narrative with anything profound or clever to say. It’s a satire with no bite.

A simple, linear storyline, peopled by obvious caricatures follows a contrived but predictable path that isn’t out of place among the more low-brow American road-movies.

The CGI work on Paul and Rogen’s apparently free-form voice-work are fun and Greg Mottola brings a sense of urgency to the direction that’s at least in the same ballpark, if not in the same league, as his earlier Superbad.

Pegg and Frost – as fish out of water in the US – don’t feel as real as they have done in their earlier outings, although some delightful comic moments come out of nowhere as a pleasant surprise, rather than the fast-paced norm.

Graeme and Clive are just too nice as characters – and nice means too little conflict and nothing to challenge their audience – we have no choice but to just sit and enjoy the ride, rather than think about where we’re going. Perhaps they were pulling their punches, treading on egg-shells, not wanting to go too far in mocking the sci-fi nerds who will also form the core of their audience.

Cameos from Jeffrey Tambor and Sigourney Weaver add to the humour – but also add to the sense that this collection of comic confection is more down to earth than out of this world.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining disappointment – not so much a wasted opportunity, as a decision to try something different that doesn’t quite pay off. Pegg + Frost – Wright may well make more money than their previous films by targeting a more mainstream audience, but it’ll leave admirers of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and indeed Superbad feeling bereft of wit and originality.

Paul – along with Edgar Wright’s recent Scott Pilgrim – while enjoyable on their own terms make you want to shout “Let’s get the band back together” and unite a team that produces British comedy gold when together and comedy bronze when they are working apart.

But at least Paul still makes it onto the podium.

Opens nationwide 14th February 2011

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