Paul (2011): Glimpses of Greatness

I really wanted to love this film. I’ve been a fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost since Shaun of the Dead. I didn’t see them work together on the hysterically funny Spaced television show until after I’d seen their ZomRomCom.

I am also a huge fan of Seth Rogan. I also adore Sigourney Weaver. So what’s not to like about Paul?

Let me tell you.

I could really sum it up in one sentence. They tried too hard.

There you have it. The magical team of Pegg and Frost struck out. And since they co-wrote the film, it stands to reason that they have to take most of the blame. It could be that without Edgar Wright directing, they lose that spontaneity and effortless ease of their comic timing and delivery. Maybe Greg Mottola just didn’t get it.

Or it could be that the studios didn’t trust our lads to be able to deliver a hit vehicle on American shores. My daughter and I have our own theory, Pegg and Frost are a great comic duo. We think though, that they work best in English comedies.

Shaun of the Dead for example was brilliantly funny from frame one. Hot Fuzz wasn’t quite so fast out of the gate as Shaun, but still very funny. At first glance Paul film should have benefited from the lads presence in the film.

But it doesn’t

The beginning of the film showed a lot of promise. Two geeky guys from the UK come to the US to attend a Comic-Con. It’s a lifetime dream of the two friends, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost respectively) are on the holiday of all holidays. Clive has written a science fiction book (graphic novel?) that Clive illustrated.

The two men attend the Comic-Con, meet their idol Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor) and afterwards they decide to take a ‘UFO” road trip by way of a RV and a map. While they are on route to another tourist UFO hot-spot, a car passes them and spectacularly crashes right in front of their RV.

Shaken, Clive and Graeme get out and go to the burning car to look for survivors. Just as Clive starts to call 911, a voice from the darkness tells him not to use the phone. Graeme and Clive freeze as an alien wearing a pair of brown shorts and scandals walks out of the shadows. Clive passes out and falls backwards onto the desert floor.

The alien introduces himself as Paul and asks the guys to help him out. It seems that his other alien buddies are going to be picking him up and he needs to get there fast. Graeme agrees since Clive is still out for the count and they both carry Clive back to the RV.

Jason Bateman plays a National Security Agent who is trying to track Paul down. Kristen Wiig plays visually challenged Ruth Buggs. Sigourney Weaver plays a ‘baddie’ and Blythe Danner plays the little girl all grown up whose dog was mashed flat by Paul’s spacecraft years ago.

So the cast was great, the story should have been a barrel of laughs. The first twenty minutes was well paced and very funny then it slowed down and turned into a slight chuckle and smile film. The sparse hilarious moments were very sparse . The CG for the alien Paul was breathtaking and just brilliant. But that was not enough to save the film from its wishy-washy comedy.

The film does have glimpses of greatness. But glimpses are all they and there not consistent enough to make this film a real rib tickler. Part of the problem was the overly obvious scenes in the film that were clearly signposting how important that particular scene would be later in the film.

**SPOILER ALERT**                                                                                       **SPOILER ALERT**

The scene with the dead bird is a perfect example. The RV that the boys are driving hits a bird and kills it. They stop the RV and Paul goes over to the bird and, clapping his hands together like a very small Mr Miyagi, brings the bird back to life. Paul holds the bird gently in his hands while Clive and Graeme look on in amazement. Paul then shoves the live bird into his mouth and eats it. Clive and Graeme look shocked. “Well, ya didn’t think I was gonna eat a dead bird did ya?” Paul says after wiping his mouth and spitting out a feather. (This was one of those glimpses that the film could have used more of)

All the comic turns in the film were also signposted. It was like watching a ‘Comedy Films for Idiots Guide.’ Every gag was so laid out that by the time it got to the punch line, I was bored.

I’m not kidding when I say that I really wanted to love this film. I even watched it twice. The second time was roughly a year after I’d originally watched it. I saw it on the flight to the United States last year. As I was a bit distracted about my first visit in over eleven years to see my family, I decided that was why I didn’t find Paul hysterically funny.

Unfortunately a year didn’t help. Even watching it with undivided attention didn’t make the film any better.

My final verdict on Paul is…It’s a one bagger. Period. The film is amusing, but not downright funny (except occasionally)and as you won’t be belly laughing while you watch it you might as well have a huge Coke with that popcorn. Worth watching but, friends and neighbours, Shaun of the Dead, it isn’t.

Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

6 thoughts on “Paul (2011): Glimpses of Greatness”

  1. It’s not as funny as I was expecting from the talent in front of, and behind the camera but I still had some nice laughs. Also, this is Seth Rogen playing Seth Rogen, which he is always best at. He should keep doing that and not try to be a different type of Seth Rogen like we saw in The Green Hornet. Nice review Mike.


  2. We actually went to the movies a couple of days ago and saw “The Dark Knight Rises.” Garry though the first half dragged but it took off after that. I like long slow exposition in both film and books, so I was fine with it. I love getting to know my characters before they start blowing everything up. Not great art and who didn’t know that the kid was going to be the next Batman or something like that? But great entertainment and that’s what we were looking for. You don’t go to a Batman movie looking for “art.” if you find it, it’s an unanticipated bonus.


    1. Unfortunately Paul started very quickly and was actually funny. As the film went on though it started trying too hard to be funny and this made the rest film suddenly become a chore to watch. I myself don’t mind if a film starts slow and builds up a slow head of steam to charge off in a faster vein. I agree totally about going to a Batman movie expecting art. If you want art, go to the Tate.


  3. How many reviews have I started with the words “I really wanted to love this …” Fill in movie, book, audiobook, camera, computer. Doesn’t matter. It is the ultimate damning with faint praise. Very faint praise.


    1. I know, I’ve used the same trite phase quite a few times. And you’re right, it is ‘ultimate damning’ indeed. All I can say it, “I’m sorry Simon and Nick! I’m sure you’ll do better next time!” 😮


Let me know what you think!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.