Greg Mottola’s Paul is like a nerd’s version of Ocean’s 11. Written and starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the duo play sci-fi fans who run across an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), and have to get him to his ship. There are government agents after him – played by Bill Hader, Justin Bateman, Sigourney Weaver and Joe Lo Truglio – and the boys meet a love interest (Kristen Wiig) along the way. Part wish-fulfillment science-fiction, part road movie, Paul works best if you – like the characters – are well versed in nerdom. Our review of the Blu-ray of Paul after the jump.
Pegg and Frost star as Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, respectively. Graeme is a cartoonist, Clive a writer, both making the pilgrimage to Nerd mecca: Comic-con. There they meet their favorite author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffery Tambor) and hope to get advice, but Shadowchild is something of a dick. Comic-con was just the beginning – their game plan is to make a trip through all the hot spots for Alien encounters in America (and where they shot the sequence with The Gorn in Star Trek). But while on their way, they witness a car accident and the alien Paul (Rogen) emerges from the wreckage.
As they get to know the pot-smoking, foul-mouthed Paul, he gives Graeme and Cive the gift of his species’ knowledge, and a greater understanding of the world. They also find out the government’s plan for Paul – which involves death by dissection. The trio end up taking Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig) along with them after she finds out they have an alien on board, and Ruth is a die-hard fundamentalist. But one touch from Paul and she sees the bigger picture and learns that the life she led of austerity and purity is absurd. How she changes her ways is one of the film’s funniest jokes. Hot on their trail is agent Zoil (Justin Bateman), who’s put on the mission by “The Big Guy” (Sigourney Weaver), and who is supposed to be helped by rookie agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), both goofs until confronted with the possibility of promotion.
Watching it at home, it’s thoroughly entertaining as a genre riff. But – perhaps by the nature of the road trip genre – Paul feels shaggier than Pegg and Frost’s collaborations with Edgar Wright. That’s not to say there aren’t great set-ups and payoffs, but it’s more episodic by nature. Mostly, it’s just a different vibe, partly because they’re working with Greg Mottola – who’s a great director in his own right, and does great work here. If the film has a fault (minor though it may be) it’s that some of the references are right on the nose, with quotes lifted directly from many of the key works of the 1970’s and 80’s that inspired the film. That’s probably my biggest quibble, especially since those references come fast and furious in the third act.
But what makes the film work is that you’ve got a great ensemble, all of whom have different strengths – with smaller bits by Jeffery Tambor, Jane Lynch, David Koechner and Jesse Plemmons, and somewhat more serious actors John Carroll Lynch and Blythe Danner getting in on the fun (Danner has one of my favorite lines in the film). Everyone gets their moments to shine, with Hader and Lo Truglio a great pair of flunkies.
The strongest material is Ruth coming to understand that her worldview is limited, and how she emerges from her shell gives the film a heart, and a theme that gives the film some weight. But in center are Pegg and Frost, who have a comfort level together that allows them to riff and feel like best friends. Are they the Hope and Crosby of our era? I’d say yes. But it’s also nice that they get to spar with Seth Rogen, whose work as Paul adds a slightly different energy to their interactions once it becomes a trio.
On some level, this has the feel of those Ocean’s films in that you get to watch people play roles that seem as custom fit as their costumes, but where Clooney and Sinatra were banking on the audience’s understanding that they are the coolest, this film banks on your knowledge that its leads are the nerdiest. And if the Ocean’s films are a form of dress-ups, it’s fair to say this is as well by inserting comic fans into the material they love.
Paul is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround in a theatrical cut (104 min.) and unrated version (109 min.) though the differences are slight. The transfer is perfect, though, as to be expected with the format. Extras include a commentary by Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader and Nira Park for the theatrical cut, and to that we should note that Collider’s own Steve Weintraub (aka Frosty) not only appears in the film, but gets a shout out in the commentary. The extras section starts with bloopers (11 min.), and then move into a making of (40 min.), which is followed by behind the scenes featurettes (62 min.). They get everyone, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm mere. The effects get a spotlight in “the Evolution of Paul” (15 min.), and this is followed by the goofier “Simon’s Silly faces” (1 min.) and “Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild” (2 min.). There are three trailers, five American TV spots, and Four UK TV Spots, four photo galleries, a storyboard gallery, and posters. The Blu-ray also comes with a digital copy and DVD version.