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Caffeinated Clint : One for the Bottle-bong generation, Paul!

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s third film together is a fun time… just not as fun as it could’ve been had the boys spent as much time working on the script as they had rounding up a terrific support cast.
You’ve all seen the mildly amusing trailer, right? A couple of British comic-book buffs, on the way home from Comic-Con in San Diego in their RV, hit a wise-cracking alien (Seth Rogen) who has escaped from Area 51. Bong hits, cameos and Spielberg jokes ensue.

Two of my favourite films of 2010 were, rather sadly, two of the year’s most unsuccessful releases.

‘’Adventureland’’, director Greg Mottola’s coming-of-age story, was set in the ‘80s and told a youngster (‘’The Social Network’’’s Jesse Eisenberg) who learns a few handy life lessons while working at a local amusement park. The film encompassed many laughs, some delicious vintage pop tunes and predominantly, welcome appearances by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a couple of eccentric characters that tread that fine line between turning the film into a grounded and warm coming-of-age yarn into a funny but satirical farce.

‘’Fanboys’’, directed by Kyle Newman, was essentially a love letter to George Lucas’s ‘’Star Wars’’, as it followed the adventures of a group of friends who, sharing a mutual love for all things Jedi, traveled cross country in their RV to potentially meet someone they’ve been waiting to meet all their life (in that case, George Lucas – who’d be forced to stop the kids from stealing a print of ‘’The Phantom Menace’’ from his ranch). Along the way, of course, the duo run into some frightening hillbilly types, stop off at so-bad-they’re-probably-real tourist attractions, grow closer as friends, and, not surprisingly – being odd out-of-towner types, have the odd encounter with the law.

Now imagine if, say by way of a flying Delorean or time-traveling sailor from a vanishing World War II ship, Mottola and Newman were tipped off a year or so out from doing their films, that both ‘’Adventureland’’ and ‘’Fanboys’’ wouldn’t be the successes they might have envisioned them to be. And imagine then that such advice led to Mottola and Newman not giving up but instead combining their forces, and therefore films, to make the one big geeky milky-jeans offering.

“Paul” is “AdventureBoys” – the film that could’ve been, one that combines the laughs, pop tunes and welcome appearances by ‘’Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a couple of eccentric characters” with that of a road-trip movie – complete with the stop-off’s and strange types usually seen in them – that’s fueled by pop culture and film references (markedly, science-fiction films) as well as the kind of madcap misadventures that strengthens friendships.

Oh, and funnily enough, “Paul” is directed by Greg Mottola, of “Adventureland” – though, unlike the filmmaker’s previous efforts, Mottola’s no more than a gun-for-hire here.

Whereas “Fanboys” and Mottola’s “AdventureLand” seemingly started with solid plots (and threw in the cameos and in-jokes later), “Paul” likely started with a discussion regarding who they could get to cameo and how funny it’d be to have one of those ‘names’ deliver a good pot joke.

The plot, as you’ll see, comes a close second to everything else.

Having said that, “Paul” has been made by some great businessman; they know that they’ve got a better shot at claiming a small fortune at the box office (than say, an “AdentureLand”) because they’ve covered every floor of the Lambda Lambda Lambda housing block – be it the geek’s adoration of a legendary comic writer, some clever Star Wars gags (though one ripped straight out of Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”), some amusing but desperate ”E.T” references, as well as car chases, shoot-outs and explosions that wouldn’t look out of place in a ”Transformers” pic…it’s a Valentine’s Day card to everything nerdy that’s been sponsored by a kitchen sink.
But is it a card to keep?

Regrettably, a lot of those jokes fall flat – some are too forced while others are just plain on-the-nose (such as one where a character recites a famous movie line to the very actor that originally muttered the words or the dated, distasteful gay jokes). Someone, like say, this guy was really needed to reign in Pegg and Frost’s exercise book of funnies and add his golden touch.
Also falling flat is the storyline. I can’t decide whether it’s the tone (is it a spoof of alien flicks? Is it a road trip movie? Is it a stoner comedy? Is it a love letter to Comic-Con? Is it making a mockery of the deeply religious?) or the lack of characterization and arc (by the end, nobody bar Bateman’s character – for inexplicable reasons – has really changed) that’s the biggest strike against it. Maybe both. We expect more from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who wrote the wonderfully witty and perfectly-plotted “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”. While their earlier efforts get great big belly laughs, “Paul” evokes a smile and sometimes, through rarely, a fleeting graugh (half grunt, half laugh).

I’ve made it sound like “Paul” derails because of its surplus of stupidity and ignorance of plot, that’s not the case, in fact, I had a really fun time with this movie. The missed opportunities, I’m afraid, just stand out.

But what works and works well is Pegg and Frost’s on-screen chemistry – which is obvious from the first frame. These guys are great together.
They also seem to determined to give the audience a good time – whether that be by way of the cameos (Oh look! It’s Jeffrey Tambor! Jane Lynch! Hey, is that… no, I think that’s just an Ewok; sadly one cameo didn’t make it that was in the script, Michael Biehn); their terrific co-star, a CGI alien that isn’t just funny but looks (it really does; they’ve done a great job in this regard) and sounds great (Though I wasn’t sure at first, thinking maybe he might be distracting – Seth Rogen was the perfect choice for the voice of Paul); or by shoveling in as many geeky film and comic references as they can – and there is quite a few of them in here.

“Paul”, despite its potential to be a much wittier and cleverer flick, is a really fun no-brainer that plays a bit like “E.T” for the bottle-bong generation. If you enjoyed those two films you picked out from the bottom of a bargain bin over Christmas, same two I mentioned at the start of this review, you’ll find something to your liking here.

Think of “Paul” as a swiftly put-together “Cheech & Chong” flick – with Cantina gags.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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