There are a few comedic staples making films right now. There are the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay movies and more films from Saturday Night Live stars. There is also Judd Apatow and David Wain and their respected troupes. They are the ones leading the charge out of Hollywood. In the past there have been the kings like Charlie Chaplin and Preston Sturges who define a comedic time. Right now, the ones that are my favorite is the team of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright.
Paul is their first collaboration without the aid of Edgar Wright since he was out making Scott Pilgrim, so Frost stepped up as a co-writer. The end result is not as tight of a movie as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but the laughs are just as strong. It takes an overdone formula of the road trip and really playing on the parts that work the best.
Two friends (Pegg and Frost) leave England to finally attend ComicCon and tour America by hitting up all of the reported UFO sightings. They end up finding an alien of their own named Paul who has escaped from Area 51. Paul is being chased down by government including supercop Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), two oblivious FBI agents (Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio) and The Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver).
As they race in their Winnebago, they encounter more characters they accidently enrage played by very funny comedians. Instead of just being individual vignettes, they smartly play up the chase. It’s more fun knowing that these people will return with greater stakes somewhere down the line.
The best nerdy films are the ones who are actually nerds themselves. This film is wall to wall of sci-fi references and tangents that are hysterical because they aren’t just the usual Star Wars lines. It’s the subtle musical cues and random lines of dialog that really pay off if you are like the main characters.
By recognizing the films of the past, Pegg and Frost know what works the best. Having Paul and a romantic interest (Kristen Wigg) serve as catalysts to shake up the central friendship is something that could be annoying. Yet Pegg and Frost are such talented actors they can sell the frustration while never losing sights of the fun of the movie as well as the heart of the characters.
Some of the plot set-ups are too obvious and there are too many jokes with “probe” as a punchline. What it got right was establishing a strong fun environment for everyone to do what they do best. Pegg and Frost were smart in not showing the lives of their characters before they got to ComicCon. Through subtle dialog, we know their regular days. Instead the whole movie is their adventure and it’s one worth taking part in.