Eyeballs boggling with geek ecstasy, Nick Frost’s Clive Gollings gushes about how, even 5,339 miles from home, he feels he “belongs” at Comic-Con.
Such is the pitch of Frost and Simon Pegg’s first co-written feature and first US co-jaunt (though Tintin shot beforehand), its fish-out-of-water premise giving way to a ready slouch into the duo’s comfort zone.
Paul’s easy-going appeal is also a weakness. Briskly directed by Greg /Superbad/ Mottola, it makes light work of more movie in-jokes, cine-wise sight gags, cock quips, cameos and bromance broadsides than you can shake a plastic lightsaber at.
But it does so with a slapdash lack of care, resembling something spawned over a pint down The Winchester and not much finessed since. Knowing nods come fast as an Amblin-esque intro segues to Clive and Graeme Willy (Pegg) looking gormless with glee at Comic-Con.
After that agenda-setting entree, the buddy boys’ US pilgrimage takes them to Extraterrestrial Highway, where they manage to pick up potty-mouthed ‘gralien’ Paul then tear cross-country in a campervan with ET onboard and men in black on their tails.
Jason Bateman gamely tags along but the Seth Rogen-voiced and mo-capped Paul steals the show. As a CGI alien, he blends neatly with the landscape and co-stars.
As a slob and pothead, he also blends neatly with the comic thrust, in which gags about super-strength weed and penile proportions balance human/alien culture-clash riffs with stoner-satire tendencies.
Kristen Wiig supplies added culture-clash currency as a Christian whose appetite for cocks and “cussing” gets revived when Paul debunks creationism.
Toss in gags about homophobic hicks, Spielberg, Spooky Mulder, Star Wars and bodily functions, and you’ve got the equation you expect: Pegg + Frost + aliens X Mottola = Spaced meets The Daytrippers via E.T. and Superbad.
That ‘expected’ is the problem, though. Example: when Sigourney Weaver cameos, you know /exactly/ the in-joke to come.
Paul is user-friendly, like an old slipper. But it’s also just as predictable and occasionally whiffy, its near-laziness exposed by some half-assed romantic non-intrigue, a throwaway “three tits” running gag and a bit of rote message-lobbing (a live-a-little homily of, “Sometimes, you’ve just gotta roll the dice.”).
As the on-stage climax steers suspiciously close to self-congratulatory, you’re left with a film that leans lightly on our geek-loving goodwill but doesn’t work hard to earn it.
It’s Pegg and Frost treading water when they could be taking risks, pushing the envelope. “Sometimes you’ve just got to roll the dice?” Let’s see it, then.
The geek brothers travel across the world only to find themselves. The resulting road movie is fondly indulgent rather than inspired, breezy but broad and indicative of treasured talents coasting.