(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Where PAUL falls short of Simon Pegg's previous two films is that they knew where they were going, and where they were going was a big part of the humor. Paul has a perfunctory plot on which was hung a bunch of nearly independent gags intended to be funny. Almost all of the humor is added on rather than being part of the structure of the story. Then the gags were just not strong enough and too often based on the false assumption that a lot of swearing in a film is funny, particularly if it comes from someone you would not expect to swear. It is not that the swearing damages the film, but it takes the place of cleverer gags. Director Greg Mottola did not understand what makes a Simon Pegg comedy funny. And neither did Simon Pegg or co-writer Nick Frost. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have a long history of working together in British comedy television. More recently they have been making films. In 2004 they starred in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and in 2007 they acted together in HOT FUZZ, two delightful quirky comedies. On those films Pegg co-wrote with writer/director Edgar Wright. For PAUL Pegg is co-writing with as well as acting with Nick Frost. Edgar Wright has been demoted to script editor. Edgar, we need you back. It is not that PAUL is a bad film, but it lacks the intelligence of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. With both of those films there is the feeling from the beginning that the viewer is in good hands. It is totally unpredictable where these stories will go, but it is clear the filmmakers know. PAUL has a very different sort of feel. Instead of a strong story arc, it has a flimsy arc and then a bunch of gags and action scenes are hung on that frame like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Particularly for science fiction film and comic fans there are a lot of funny bits, but one has the feeling that they could be removed and the plot and idea of the film would not change much.

It seems that two science fiction dweebs from Britain are renting a motor home and visiting the science-fiction-related sites of the American Southwest. They will start with San Diego Comic Con and continue to sites like Area 51, the Black Mailbox, and Roswell. Simon Pegg is Graeme Willy and Nick Frost is Clive Gollings. Along the way they unexpectedly pick up a third member for their party, an extraterrestrial alien. The joke is that he does not have an unearthly name like Klaatu or even a title like the Doctor. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan). And his behavior matches his name. He has been on this planet for sixty of our years and has assimilated so much that he not only talks like Seth Rogan, he acts like him also. He has mastered the fine art of profanity and likes it just about as much as you would expect that Seth Rogan would. And the whole plot is in service of that one gimmick. This is an alien would make a good drinking and drugs buddy. Within that conceit there is sort of a plot of getting Paul where he can be picked up by a flying saucer. Parts of the saucer look like a smaller version of the United Planets Cruiser from FORBIDDEN PLANET. And all over there are little references to science fiction and action films. Bits of dialog are snatched from all over the place. This might be a good film to watch on DVD so it can be easily stopped to think about the sources. There are details that might have been funny that were lost in the British actors failure to enunciate. The story takes the characters all over the Southwest chased by some inept "men in black." Also involved is a fundamentalist evangelical father and his daughter. The latter has a crisis of faith with the discovery that in spite of all her dogma to the contrary there really are aliens.

In addition to its comic actors of current popularity, people like Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Pegg and Frost, Jane Lynch, and Jeffrey Tambor, it is nice to see some of the previous generation actors, particularly Blyth Danner and another woman who shall remain nameless since though we hear her highly recognizable voice throughout the film, she remains unseen for most of the film like Blofeld in early Bond films.

Pegg and Frost throw in as much satire of American culture, science fiction fandom, and good old boy relationships as they can, but it would have been a stronger comedy if it had been more essential to the structure of the film. PAUL is Simon Pegg's JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. I rate it a disappointing low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper