06 March 2011
Paul is a fugitive. A celebrity. A slacker. A joker.
And most importantly, he’s an alien. Possessive of spaceman balls that is the envy of all humankind. His contribution to arts and sciences knows no boundaires.
Even Mr. Spielberg calls him up for his best ideas.
Paul has everything going for it. The comic duo of the 21st century leading a cast of some of the best actors in comedy today: Kristen Wiig, Jon Hader, Jason Bateman, Joe Lo Truglio and Seth Rogen’s lungs. It even has a small role for Norm “Son of a” Gunderson as a bible-toting hillbilly.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Paul should have been incredibly funny, endlessly quotable. I should have already been wearing a t-shirt that says “I have spaceman balls”.
I’m not wearing that t-shirt (though, I’m seriously considering having one made now), but there is a crucial reason why this is the case: Paul, sadly, isn’t that funny.
It has its moments of pure hilarity, but those moments are quite rare.
The supporting cast (including Rogen’s lungs) are genius - Wiig and Bateman are exceptionally good, while Hader and Lo Truglio as the hapless minor agents are so good, part of thinks they should get a spin off. Think Reno 911, which Lo truglio was a part of, in space.
The problem is with the leads: Pegg and Frost seem like they don’t want to be there. This is specifically the case for Pegg. Even in mediocre-at-best films like Run, Fatboy, Run, his charm was enough to carry an anemic film.
If you cut them off from the film, it would be very messy, but considerably funnier.
Co-written by Pegg and Frost, the script never really picks up. This is a road film, where our protagonists are being chased by secret agents on open roads. They have to get their alien friend to a specific place on time. Everything is in place for a brisk, funny, and yes, formulaic film. But, the formula just never sticks.
Could it be that Pegg and Frost are missing Edgar Wright?
Perhaps. Their most successful (and universally adored) projects had Wright as the director and co-writer. But, the problem lies elsewhere.
Both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were very “British”, which was huge part of the charm of those films. They defied many a Hollywood logic and stuck to something very local. Can you imagine Spaced as an American show? It would be a second-rate Big Bang Theory.
When making those early films, the emphasis was on the laughs, not the structure or the story. It was very un-Hollywood in that sense - grown up with the 80s action flicks and comic books from America, Pegg, Frost, and Wright added sarcasm to a genre that has always been devoid of it. When they say rom-com-zom, they don’t just mean it’s a romantic comedy with zombies - it is the antithesis of the other romantic comedies. It is a zombified version, if you like.
Paul is very straight. Very predictable. Very 80s Hollywood.
Yes, predictability is the name of the game these days. With a movie-going public that is exposed to more cinema than ever before, even the least cinephile of us can deduce what’s going to happen in any film with consistent accuracy.
The predictability I’m talking about is that of something happening at exactly when you expect it to. Then on the nth minute, what should happen, happens again. Like clockwork. The finale is given in the first few minutes with a plant that is so obvious, I wanted to leave the cinema.
Spoiler? Yes. It spoils the film. If you have seen the trailer where the leads are staring at a dead bird, you will know what I mean.
Is it all doom and gloom, then?
No, there are some brilliant subtle touches. Look out for the music that’s played in the redneck bar they visit.
But, that’s as much subtlety and sarcasm allowed in the film.
It is a labour of love, for sure. Pegg and Frost’s Twitter updates over the past few months show that they really poured their hearts out into this. But, why didn’t I see that on screen?
Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I have overestimated their comic genius. Perhaps not the latter as I still think Pegg, Frost and Wright are the kings of comedy.