Film Review: Paul

by Dave Minkus

Directed by Greg Mattola
Starrting Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman

Score:  1.5/4

Paul has been getting mixed reviews pretty much from the get go.  I was legitimately scared to print Jack's review when he saw it back in November of 2010.  I was afraid to even entertain the thought that the two men who were on their way to becoming this generation's Abbott and Costello could put out what is at best a mediocre movie.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened.  I have some special bones to pick with the film's treatment of faith, but I'm going to leave that for the end as I've done my best to take that out of the equation when it comes to reviewing and scoring this film.

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Paul features the adventures of Britgeeks Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) going on a tour of the USA and its geeky sci-fi landmarks, starting with the San Diego Comic-Con.  After reveling in the celebration all things nerd, they embark on their road trip to places like Area 51 and other spots noted for their extra terrestrial activity and places in sci-fi history.  Along the way, they meet up stranded alien Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who needs help getting home as he's chased by feds (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) and a Man in Black (Jason Bateman).  They also kidnap an eventual friend (Kristen Wiig) who happens to be one of those lunatics who believes in God…sorry.  We'll get to that part later.  Can they get Paul home and survive the ordeal themselves?  Take a wild guess.

Normally, when you watch a film with so many hit and miss jokes, you can't completely blame the actors as they're just working with the material they're given.  In this case, since Frost and Pegg wrote the script, they are the only people you can blame.  The opening bits where these lovable goofs are taking in the majesty that is Comic-Con are great and make you settle in for a fun ride the rest of the way.  That just wasn't the case for me, though.  There were some fun geek referrences to be had throughout, but some of them were just far too forced (the country band playing the Star Wars cantina theme) or just didn't work for me.  To be fair, the film is also meant to be a love letter to the Spielberg sci-fi movies and those moments are definitely special and genuine.

There's also the matter of the profanity in the film.  Look, I don't have a problem with swearing in movies.  The fact that I love Quentin Tarantino films should prove that point single handedly.  I just don't like it when there is profanity for profanity's sake.  I get that when a bunch of guys are hanging out, there's definitely the potential for a lot of swearing.  My problem is that there are several spots where the characters regress to being 12-year-olds who just learned about naughty words or just played Bulletstorm for the first time.  It works in Wiig's portrayal of Ruth because she is just now discovering the wonderful world of cussing, so it's cute that she doesn't know how to do it, kind of like Spock in Star Trek IV.  It just makes everyone else looks like losers, though.

To say the plot is threadbare is being kind.  It just serves as an excuse to get to the next landmark.  I think the suspense and fun could have been really amped up if the film ended at Comic-Con instead of started there.  I understand why they ended the film where they did, but I think the story would have been served better if the film ended in San Diego.  The sheer number of comedic possibilities of running around with an alien at Comic-Con is absolutely staggering.?

? I'm sure the logistics of making it happen would be a nightmare, but it would have been amazing.  Instead, we get Sigourney Weaver showing up and being cast only so another character can shout a famous line from Aliens at her.

And now, we come to the film's treatment of religion and faith.  I just don't understand why this part of the film was included at all.  Overall, Paul is a geek road trip movie that's mostly having fun along the way.  To make a point of bashing ANY religion or faith in such a callous, mean-spirited way is confusing to me.  The religous elements of the film probably don't take more than 5-10 minutes of the film's running time, but my opinion of two gentlemen I previously respected greatly changed completely.  Making Ruth a backwoods, hillbilly, white-bred trailer trash Christian was done purely for laughs, I'm sure.  The fact that they all berate her mercilessly until Paul shares the knowledge of his life and the universe and cures her of her crazy thinking is insulting, plain and simple.  I know people are probably going to say that they're just mocking her belief in a young earth as opposed to an old earth, but look at what's said again.  Ruth (and we, the audience) are told that you are a complete moron if you believe in God.  There is absolutely no way that you can be a sane human being and believe in any kind of supernatural higher power.  Sounds pretty mean spirited and completely out of place for this kind of movie, right?

After Ruth is freed from the bonds of being an idiotic person of faith, the film is content to just let her overbearing, abusive father be a cartoon villain chasing them until the end of the film, where they bring this whole idea back.  When the father catches up to them and declares one of Paul's powers to be a miracle of God's healing hand, they immediately mock him outright like he has brain damage.  Even when the guy is finally coming around at the end of the film, Paul completely blows him off as the simpleton he obviously is.

I'm a big boy and can take some jokes about faith.  I didn't hate Bill Maher's Religulous simply because of the scene involving Bill at the truck stop Bible study.  The rest of the film may have been a mockery of people of faith, but including that single scene was at least an attempt to play fair.  Eddie Izzard makes no bones about being an athiest and taking the piss out of faith, but he generally does it in a playful way.  Paul just wants to mock ANYBODY of faith.  Yeah, Ruth is a very specific kind of Christian, but they go out of their way to say that any kind of faith is just wrong and you're an idiot if you believe in any kind of religion.

Without all the faith bashing, Paul convinced me that a team of Frost and Pegg is no longer a lock to be an entertaning blast at the movies.  When it works, it really works, but those moments are so few that they can't make up for the mediocrity in the rest of the film.

With the faith bashing?  It's going to take stellar reviews for me to spend my hard-earned and precious disposable income on two gentlemen who have made it clear they don't respect me as a person of faith.  As someone who went to the fan screening of Shaun of the Dead in Denver and has a Shaun Squad poster signed by Frost, Pegg and Edgar Wright, bought a region-free DVD player, imported Shaun of the Dead and the 2-disc version of Spaced, then imported the 3-disc version of Spaced, bought the 3-disc DVD of Hot Fuzz, bought the US version of Spaced, has a 12″ Shaun figure and upgraded Shaun and Hot Fuzz to Blu-ray, I believe I'm at the end of the line with you gents.  It's been fun.

I'm not calling for a boycott or something dumb like that.  You should watch Paul for yourself and make that decision…when it's a buck at Redbox or on Netflix.  I couldn't honestly recommend this movie even if that content wasn't in the movie, though.

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Comments

  1. Jalen

    Yeah Dave I completely agree with this review. Overall I’d say the film is mediocre at best but to add the whole religion joke was unnecessary. I’m also a person of faith and while I’m not one to be offended hearing someone else’s views on the universe in this film the subject made me feel uncomfortable. However, Dave if these two work with Edgar Wright again would you be interested?

  2. I’ve actually had a LITTLE bit of a change of heart about this whole thing. From the outset of writing this article, I was leaving a mental caveat for the third film in the Cornetto Trilogy.

    The actual change of heart is that it would be hypocritical to decide that I’m completely done with two people whose work I’ve previously enjoyed without finding out what their intentions were. So, with that in mind, I’ll be composing a letter about this and sending it off to Mr. Pegg’s people to get their side of this and see if it was just a gigantic misstep or if they meant it to be taken the way I did. Should the result of that change my mind, I’ll add an addendum to this review.

  3. Well said. Both the faith bashing elements and extraneous cussing could have easily been cut without losing a single guffaw (assuming Ruth’s evolution as a cusser stays intact. That running gag loses steam, but it’s funny at first)

  4. Jeremy Barker

    Thank you for this review. I was seriously considering seeing this one but have now changed my mind. I have had just about enough of Hollywood treating my faith as less intellectual than the notion that my ancestors were once a slimy blob of goo.