Paul: Not Nearly As Bad As You Think

Really, that headline feels a bit off, doesn’t it? This is, after all, a loving genre spoof starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with some geek referencing framing an otherwise formulaic comedy centre. It’s worked to near-perfection before, in movies I don’t think I need to mention by name here. But then again as soon as the first droplets of information started pouring out from the Paul production, a subtle but uneasy sensation overtook the enthusiasm. While the mere presence of the cast, an ensemble collecting the aforementioned Brits with prime Yankee talents like Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig, sounded promising enough, the trailers and posters gave you another idea entirely. It’s like we’re not allowed to advertise comedies as funny anymore at risk of offending the Friedberg/Seltzer demographic.

Nothing says fun quite like a list of nouns and mustard yellow.

But Paul isn’t as bad as the ad campaign wants you to believe. Yes, we’ve seen this story of the two slackers getting into hijinks with an odd third party before and yes, it’s no Shaun or Fuzz. Paul is standard-fare comedy but manages to stand out, in our trying times that has allowed for three Big Momma movies, by also being quite funny. Pegg and Frost know and love the genre and when they allow that to shine through, Paul excels. The references range from obvious to delightfully obscure and work to actually make the jokes funnier rather than just for tired fan-service (something they should have taught Edgar Wright and Scott Pilgrim might not have been such a mess).

Jokes do fall flat, especially the hackneyed running gags. Isn’t it funny when two male friends are mistaken for a gay couple? And when someone who isn’t very good a cursing curses? And if you find people fainting hilarious you’re in luck – it’s the punchline for two subplots. The committee-mandated love story is also one of the most ham-fisted attempts at romance in any movie ever made, to the point that it makes Amidala and Anakin seem positively naturalistic. Funny how these are the moments the international trailer focuses on, because that’s what we are assumed to find funny.

The fish out of water-plot reminded me of Michael starring John Travolta, a comedy road movie about a wayward angel with a taste for smoking and booze, being driven through America by a gang of initial  disbelievers-turned-friends before ascending back to his home in the skies. Now, Michael was a mess in more ways than one, most of them to do with it being boring to a punishing degree (it starred William Hurt), but it’s main flaw was that Travolta’s angel just wasn’t likeable, despite the entire premise banking on it. Paul excels in this regard and Seth Rogen does a fine job as the voice and mocap of the little alien, making him work as a believable E.T. for the Apatow-generation. What can I say, you start to like the guy and the film is better because of it.

Ultimately, Paul does what it wants, entertains you and then returns to whatever star system it may have come from. Team Pegg Frost manages to maintain enough of what makes their comedic partnership great, but as soon as they force themselves to dilute the comedy for the benefit of that awful intangible mass “general audiences” they lose sight of the funny. Don’t let the trailers fool you, though; Paul is a solid, funny comedy adventure and that’s more than most of us were expecting.


3 Responses to Paul: Not Nearly As Bad As You Think

  1. Damien Ferne says:

    It was a bit of a disappointment compared to their other work, but it had a few giggles in it. I really liked the con culture to be honest!

    • Rikard says:

      Yeah, it was never going to adequately live up to the strength of Shaun and Fuzz, but it surprised me how much I enjoyed it. I haven’t been even slightly interested in seeing it again since, though, so it certainly hasn’t got the same timeless quality as the others.

      • Damien Ferne says:

        Mmhm, I think again that was our response! You can watch their older things again and again but Paul definitely had a 1 watch life span. That’s one not in our DVD collection…

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