Tag Archives: Simon Pegg

Paul

An amiable ramble down the highways of UFOlogy, Paul has writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing their geek bromance routine in America.  Blending the genre parodies of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead with Judd Apatow style frat comedy, it’s a likeable enough piece that could maybe have tried a little bit harder.
Edgar Wright being busy elsewhere, the director is Greg Mottola (Superbad and the excellent Adventureland), with fellow comedy regular Seth Rogen providing the voice of the titular Grey alien.  On the run from Jason Bateman’s Man in Black, Paul chances across Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), two SF fans touring the UFO hotspots of America in a rented RV, and hotches a ride to the planned rendezvous with his people. 

The main reason Shaun and (to a slightly lesser extent) Hot Fuzz worked was because the scripts were good.  It didn’t matter if you’d never seen the films they riffed on, because the characters felt three dimensional, if broad.  Paul doesn’t hold up quite so well.  The two leads are affectionately drawn, but slightly too obvious: nervous around women, fond of comics, shielding themselves in fantasy.  It’s a little closer to the average person’s view of Comic Con attendees than it needs to be.  The matey camaraderie between the two helps (you suspect the trip is a dream come true for the actors as well as the characters).  The script also falls into the trap of quoting other films, verbally and visually, as a wink to the fanboys in the audience so frequently that it becomes irritating rather than funny. 

But these are minor points; my one major reservation about the script is that it takes the route of making the local small town folk the lads encounter to be bible and/or queer-bashing rednecks, which just feels lazy.  Worse, there’s a peculiar plot strand in which Paul proves to Simon Pegg’s love interest (Kristen Wiig) that God doesn’t exist, and all the beliefs she was raised with are wrong.  There’s no debate about this: the film takes it for granted that everyone watching will share this worldview and be ready to laugh at anyone who doesn’t.  It’s a peculiar attitude for a comedy to adopt, and one which will surely cost it some potential ticket sales, particular in the areas where it’s set (I can’t wait to read the capalert review). 

If you can get past that, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had.  A terrific support cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as Bateman’s stooges.  These last two provide a lot of the biggest laughs.  And Paul himself is an impressive bit of CGI.
Paul is one of those films you can’t actively dislike, and it benefits greatly from picking up the pace in the last act.  It’s a shame that so many of the best gags are in the trailer, though there is some material on Paul’s influence on popular culture that I enjoyed a lot.  Overall, a fair crowdpleaser  that should find an audience among those with no religious sensibilities whatsoever.

Burke & Hare

It starts with the Ealing Studios logo, but while this tale of a lovable pair of graverobbers turned killers shares the black comedy of many Ealing titles, the execution is more akin to a Carry On film.  We’re spared the constant double entendres, but do get a long line of cameos from familiar comedy faces (and Michael Winner), some of whom give fairly shonky performances.  The opening scene, with our lovable anti-heroes getting splattered with shit, doesn’t really tell the whole story but isn’t a great omen.
Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis star as a pair of Irish chancers trying to earn a dishonest crust in 1820s Edinburgh.  Rivalry between the head doctors at the city’s prominent medical teaching institutions creates a gap in the market for fresh bodies for dissection; a gap that Burke and Hare are quick to fill, first by taking advantage of a death by natural causes, then by more nefarious means. 
Some might question the taste of turning the story of a pair of murderous into a jolly romp.  Not me; I’m sick.  But there is a challenge in making the leads both plausible – they turn to crime due to desperate need for money, which is a reasonably current issue – while seeming like people you might like, in order for the audience to care what happens about them.  Both Pegg and director John Landis have form in mixing comedy with horror, in Shaun of the Dead and American Werewolf in London respectively.  Those films worked because the scripts were good, with characters you both believed in and liked; Shaun and his mates felt like people you might actually meet down the pub, as did the luckless hitchhikers of American Werewolf Burke & Hare doesn’t have such strong foundations; the thriller element doesn’t particularly excite, and the jokes just aren’t funny enough.  The audience I saw it with only managed a few chuckles.
Pegg and Serkis do what they can; Pegg does best with the more morally troubled but easily lead of the two, falling puppyishly in love with actress Isla Fisher.  Serkis has the more venal character to play, and works well with his screen wife (Jessica Hynes).
The rest of the cast varies considerably.  Tom Wilkinson brings his usual dignity, and a couple of American Werewolf cast members also pop up (I won’t spoil it by telling you who).  Against that, we have to suffer Ronnie Corbett, who destroys every scene he’s in as the leader of the militia hunting Burke and Hare.  Laboriously delivering every line as though still in a late 70s Two Ronnies sketch doesn’t count as acting, I’m afraid.
The film looks good (I’m a bit of a sucker for anything set in Edinburgh), doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is amiable enough.  However, I was hoping for a bit more.