Judge Patrick Naugle has already booked his next vacation to Area 51.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two English boys who've made good in America. Frost and Pegg were the minds behind the cult classic romantic horror/comedy Shaun of the Dead and the action send-up Hot Fuzz. Keeping in mind the fervent excitement of the Comic-Con crowd, the comedic duo have set their sights on alien invasion movies with their latest film Paul, now available on Blu-ray care of Universal Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are best friends on a mission: the infamous Comic-Con convention in San Diego, California. Arriving from across the pond and setting off inside an RV through the Nevada desert, Clive and Graeme find themselves inside a real life space adventure when they happen upon Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), an on-the-lamb space man who is trying to find his way back home. However, Graeme and Clive quickly discover that Paul is not your typical extra terrestrial; instead he's the equivalent of the movie Dazed & Confused wrapped up in a tiny alien body.
With a pair of obnoxiously stupid FBI agents on their tail (Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader and The State alumni Joe Lo Trugilo), a mysterious government official trying to capture them (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses) and a wigged out religious zealot along for the ride (Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids), Clive and Graeme are going to need every trick in their geek handbook if they're going to get Paul back home!
Paul has its roots firmly in '70s sci-fi and is the equivalent of a love letter to every movie featuring the mysteries of the great unknown: outer space. It's a film that is endearingly innocent in its story and characters, but subversively pointed in its execution. This is a movie that was made for a specific audience, and on that level it almost always succeeds.
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (especially) are masters when it comes to parodying film genres. They are able to walk a very fine line by being silly and goofy while still retaining all of the elements that made that specific genre successful in the first place. In their best effort, Shaun of the Dead, Pegg, Frost and director Edgar Wright took an idea that's been beaten to death (pun intended)—the zombie movie—and infused it with new life. Heck, even zombie auteur George A. Romero gave it his bloody stamp of approval. In their follow up, Hot Fuzz, the boys took aim at the glorious excesses of '80s action films; mainly anything starring Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and succeeded in making a movie that had both laughs and a considerable amount of collateral damage.
Now comes Paul, which isn't as good as either of their previous efforts but still gets more right than it gets wrong. Pegg and Frost collaborated on the screenplay while Greg Mottola (who helmed the amusing Superbad) took over the directing reigns from Wright. The finished product is a goofy, silly slacker alien comedy that never takes itself too seriously. It's hard not to have an endearing love for a movie that features a lot of jokes about an alien's 'junk'.
Paul's best laughs come from its smaller moments, especially between Pegg and Frost. At this point it feels as if the two actors are (to steal a Kevin Smith phrase) "heterosexual life mates," and their banter is often side splitting and touching at the same time. It's rare that a movie can take two actors and make you believe they are best friends; since Pegg and Frost are buddies in real life, it's an easy transition that works in the movie's favor. Seth Rogan as the title character is funny, although it's sometimes hard to look past Rogan's very dense and familiar persona and see a character behind Paul's eyes. It's to Rogan's credit that after a while I was able to get into Paul's groove and actually care about his eventual outcome.
Another reason for Paul's success is that it features a talented supporting cast. Saturday Night Live seems to have its paws all over this film, with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader taking on supporting roles (both are funny, though Wiig's character grates after a while). Jason Bateman is at his deadpan best as an agent trying to find Paul; Bateman is quickly becoming the go-to guy in blockbuster comedies lately, and for good reason—he's funny. Amusingly, there are two very funny cameos in the film that will tickle movie buffs, neither of which I will spoil in this review except to say that their connection to this film makes a lot of sense once you see and hear them.
Paul's only real misstep is that it sometimes revels too heavily and lengthily in slacker humor, almost at times to the breaking point. Pot jokes abound (note to filmmakers and Seth Rogan: we get it, you like to smoke weed…now let's move on) and the profanity in the film, while never offensive, wears thin especially with Kristen Wiig's character. The screenplay sometimes oversteps its bounds by allowing jokes to pop up one too many times (characters fainting after seeing an alien is funny once; four times, not so much) and taking too many malicious jabs at religion (again, amusing at first but that wears thin fast). Yet, these are mostly nitpicks; what the movie does, it usually does very well.
I readily enjoyed Paul; it's a movie that doesn't try too hard to be likable and, while it's not a classic, it's still a lot of fun with good effects work (the character of Paul is believable even when you know he's just an onscreen computer graphic) and enough sci-fi geekiness to placate fanboys and regular viewers. Here's hoping Pegg and Frost keep making movies; they're a couple of true diamonds in the rough.
Paul is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p resolution. Universal's work on this hi-def picture is excellent and pleasing to the eye. The movie isn't overly flashy (even though it has its fair share of special effects work), but even without all the razzmatazz (finally I got to use the word "razzmatazz" in a sentence!) this is an excellent looking picture. There's nary a speck of dust, dirt or any other imperfection in the image. Whatever you may think of this movie, the fact remains that Paul sparkles on Blu-ray.
The soundtrack is presented in a fun, rollicking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that features heavy use of the side, rear and front speakers. There are many moments during Paul where the action dictates a lot of surround sound effects that are both exciting and comedic (especially the music score by David Arnold, who also coincidentally composed the score for Independence Day). Dialogue, effect and music are all evenly recorded and well mixed. Overall both the video and audio presentations are top notch. Also included on this disc are soundtracks in DTS 5.1 in French and Spanish, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
There are a fair amount of extra features included on this edition of Paul, including an amusing commentary track by director Greg Mottola, producer Nira Park and actors Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Bill Hader; a rather extensive 'making of' featurette titled "Between the Lightening Strikes: The Making of Paul" (which included cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage); eight behind-the-scenes featurettes ("RV Doorway: The Cast of Paul On-Location," "Runway Santa Fe: An Interview with Nancy Steiner," "Smithereens," "5th Date Level Direction: The Cast on Greg Mottola," "Mexico Zero: The Locations of Paul," "The Many Pauls," "Paul the Musical" and "The Traveler Beagle) that highlight everything from locations to CGI effects to the casting of the film; a 15 minute featurette on the visual effect of the film ("The Evolution of Paul"); a very short featurette on the Jeffrey Tambor character Adam Shadowchild ("Who The Hell is Adam Shadowchild"),\; a blooper reel; "Simon's Silly Faces" (exactly what it sounds like);six galleries of photos and behind-the-scenes snapshots; some trailers and TV spots; BD Live features and a bonus digital copy/DVD of the film.
Note: two versions of the film are included, a 104 minutes theatrical cut and a 110 minutes "Director's Cut."
If you are a fan of science fiction or comedies, Paul comes as an easy recommendation. Pegg and Frost work brilliantly together, making this a must see for those who enjoy laughing. Universal's work on this Blu-ray is excellent and it's well worth the price tag.
Live long and prosper.
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