Imagine ET with an ASBO and you’ve got Paul, the swearing, smoking, crude little alien in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s nerd-fest “Paul”.
A tribute to classic Spielberg, Paul follows über sci-fi fans Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) as they pick up an intergalactic hitchhiker on their road trip through some of the US’s UFO hotspots.
What ensues is a riotous trundle across the desert, where they hook up with a fundamental Christian, annoy some rednecks, pose as the weirdest modern family imaginable and are pursued by three scary secret service agents.
As expected from Pegg and Frost (they have starred together in Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but Paul is the first film they have written together), the jokes come thick and fast. Some are juvenile and puerile, some you can see coming a mile off and joyfully, some are subtle and clever. A lot of the humour is accompanied by a truly unique way with swear words, so if you’re offended by bad language, Paul is one to avoid, as practically every expletive under the sun crops up.
Nobody is more foul-mouthed than the little green man himself. Voiced by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express), Paul has been on Earth for over 60 years, advising the US government and influencing popular culture. He smokes (not just tobacco), he drinks beer, he likes dancing to reggae and mooning people. That’s right, Paul is a bit of a ned. Now it’s time for him to go back to his own planet á la ET, and Graeme and Clive are going to get him to his rendezvous point no matter what. Despite all the science fiction film references, Paul is accessible if you’ve never seen any of them, and this is because of the utter likeability of Pegg and Frost and the rather well crafted film they’ve written.
It seems a bit of an insult to say that our heroes are likeable, but Pegg and Frost are just so at ease on screen.
They don’t try too hard, and even though it is definitely their film, they don’t hog the limelight. They’ve surrounded themselves with a great supporting cast, including Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) as the senior agent leading the chase and Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) as the Christian doing most of the creative cursing. Jane Lynch (Glee’s Sue Sylvester) makes an all too brief cameo, as does sci-fi royalty Sigourney Weaver. What the film does lack is the visional flare of Edgar Wright, who directed Pegg and Frost in their previous screen outings. Greg Mottolla, another alumnus of the superbly clever and criminally ignored US sitcom Arrested Development, takes the helm here.
Where Wright has the ability to make the ordinary seem extraordinary, Mottolla sticks to a fairly flat form of direction. He’s put together a great film; it’s just not that exciting to look at.
But Paul doesn’t meander. The hour and 40 minutes fly by and before you know it you’ve reached a nice, tidy end. There are two twists – one you’ll see coming, one you won’t.
The comedy is tempered with a sweetness that won’t cause cavities. All that swearing might make you choke on your popcorn though. Give that alien some community service!