It’s been four years since Hot Fuzz, the last big screen outing for the saviours of British comedy otherwise known as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The duo that started out on Channel Four’s surreal sitcom Spaced have had surprisingly disparate careers since Fuzz; Pegg won the role of Scotty in the Star Trek remake while Frost accepted a bit part in The Boat That Rocked, to name just one example. The filming of Tin Tin and Paul in 2010 saw the twosome set to make their much anticipated return as the loveable double act that started it all. Paul, being the first to hit the box office, had a lot of weight on its tiny alien shoulders. The film centres around sci fi fanboys Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) who, on an epic nerd tour of America, lend a hand to on-the-run alien Paul (Seth Rogen) as he attempts to evade the American government and a wealth of FBI agents after the contents of his brain.
Despite the widely agreed belief that Pegg + Frost + Aliens must be a good formula, the odds of Paul being able to live up to the reception of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was clearly a concern for movie goers. What’s more, the news that Edgar Wright, regular director and script contributor, was completely detached from the project (due to Scott Pilgrim commitments) must have set mental alarm bells ringing in the minds of long-time fans of Pegg and Frost. That is if these alarm bells weren’t already ringing due to the simple fact that the film is set in America; anyone who’s seen How to Lose Friends and Alienate People knows the dangers of sending Simon Pegg to the other side of the pond. However, unlike How to Lose Friends, the script to Paul is strong, as is the ensemble cast of American favourites such as Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig, who you may remember as the socially awkward manager from Adventureland.
This cast and the new directorial collaboration with Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) means the backdrop for the bromantic twosome’s new outing seems like the same parallel reality which plays home to the current brand of American nerd comedy. Thankfully, where this could be a detrimental factor in the film, it is in fact a saving grace; Pegg and Frost sparkle in this new environment, moving from the small pond of British indie filmmaking to gigantic sea of the Hollywood blockbuster without losing any of their ability to induce the biggest belly laughs available in cinema today. The jokes come from all angles – the inept FBI Agents tracking the duo, Wiig’s inexperienced swearing techniques as a Christian-turned-atheist, Steven Spielberg’s exceptional cameo and of course the eponymous Paul, their disease-healing, invisibility-harnessing, faint-inducing alien companion.
The on-the-run road movie nature of the film holds the narrative together with a sense of urgency whilst the constant supply of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Alien and Close Encounter references are enough to keep even the most hardened sci-fi nerd well and truly entertained. The film is not flawless however, the never-ending run of misfortune befalling the central characters makes the film seem as derived and unbelievable as a 104 minute episode of The Inbetweeners, but then again, this is science fiction – a genre not widely believed to be the home of sensible believability, or so I’ve heard.
Good – The amount of times Pegg and Frost are asked if they’re a couple, amongst other things.
Bad – Sigourney Weaver’s cameo is a bit of a let down, and maybe less jokes about anal probing.