From the pop culture orgy of Channel 4’s Spaced, to zomcom Shaun Of The Dead, right through buddy cop satire Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have made a good career out of geekery. It helps that they’re funny, and likable, but in being passionate about cult subjects often derided, they’ve become champions to many passionate about the same things.
More than anything the pair have made prior, it’s these people for who Paul offers most. The film begins at San Diego Comic Con, then weaves through the Extraterrestrial Highway and a host of genre cameos therein. The film also contains the best Star Wars joke ever made by anyone ever, as well as a late on cameo that’s as inspired as Zombieland’s mid-section. Of course, the danger of making a movie about befriending an alien is that for every E.T. there are ten Mac and Me’s. That’s no issue here: the stars passion for sci-fi – good, bad, even Mac – makes the film zing with fandom.
Not that the star of the film is anyone but Paul, voiced by Seth Rogan, and holder of most of Paul’s best lines. Fans of Pegg and Frost may be disappointed the interplay between the pair isn’t evident as much as on past outings, yet the spread of gags is far and wide. Do they miss longtime collaborator Edgar Wright, who rejoins the pair for forthcoming Cornetto Trilogy finale The World’s End? Sometimes, yes. Some of the narrative stutters, and you can’t accuse Wright’s films of doing that. Nevertheless, director Greg Mottola (who last oversaw 2009’s underrated Adventureland) crafts a movie with little sag and with a gag quota so high, you only really notice when one of them clunks.
If the film falls down slightly it’s midway, when the geek culture references become so relentless they might baffle anyone who’s never popped their head into Forbidden Planet. I’m not one such person, I enjoyed how relentless the cultdom was. In fact, there’s something quite brazen about Pegg/Frost’s film – just how unconcerned it is with anyone but their own kind liking it (which may explain the U.S. unfriendly pro-evolution content peppered throughout). Previous outings by the pair have contained an emotional element to entice those who have no interest in zombies or old cop show VHS. Paul is more defiant, a flicked Vulcan sign saying ‘like it or leave it’. I liked it, loads.