There is no denying the talent and popularity of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Since the release of the now cult TV favourite Spaced, the pair have embarked on a successful film and television career. However, the absence of Edgar Wright in both his usual writing and directorial capacities from their latest release, Paul (2011), left many people dubious as to what the final result of the film might look like.
Paul tells the story of a geeky duo Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) as they set off on a road trip from Comic-Con in San Diego across the Nevada desert, stopping at a number of iconic, alien-related locales. Naturally, they come across an alien by the name of Paul (Seth Rogen), and offer to help him get back to both his UFO and his home planet.
However, with the FBI, the delusional father of a religious woman they adopt, and all manner of unbridled chaos on their trail, the story things get complicated, and in the process it is revealed that Paul has, and has had, an invaluable impact on American politics and culture.
Frost has replaced Wright as Pegg’s writing partner for Paul, and an impressive cast has been pulled together to support the duo. Director Greg Mottola has brought many familiar faces from his cult hit Superbad (2007) to the table, and the film has roles for many familiar faces.
Bill Hader – also a supporting player in Mottola’s Adventureland (2009) – gives an understated, almost deadpan performance as rookie FBI agent Haggard that proves a roaring success. Seth Rogen provides the voice of Paul, while Joe Lo Truglio stars as Hader’s partner, O’Riley. Jane Lynch, who is probably most known for her performances in Role Models (2008) and Glee, also has a bit part as a waitress at a UFO themed diner in Nevada.
US comedian Jason Bateman gives an uncharacteristic performance as, for the majority of the film, Paul’s chief antagonist, a refreshing change from his downtrodden, nice guy persona that works extremely well. There are also some expected cameos – firstly from Steven Spielberg in an extremely clever scene that deals with any plot holes Paul might have had – and a second from a well known face whose mere casting will elicit as many laughs as their ingenious intertextual dialogue.
Paul also references Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Alien (1979) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as well as a number of comic book nods. This gives the film an endearing and familiar quality and, despite not being a true companion piece to any of the earlier Wright/Pegg collaborations, certainly feels like one in spirit at times.
Yet it is impossible not to notice Wright’s absence, and at times the film does feel slightly generic, moving more into the territory of a Judd Apatow ‘bromantic’ comedy than the unique style of Wright and Pegg’s collaborations.
Paul was intended to complete the ‘Blood and Ice Cream’ trilogy (or ‘Three Colours Cornetto’ trilogy, depending on who you ask), of which Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) were the first two instalments. To its credit, the script is certainly a solid piece of work with many hilarious moments, the ensemble cast work perfectly together and the references never miss their mark – but there is just something missing here, and it has to be Wright.