When Simon Pegg and Nick Frost appear in a film there will always be a level of presumption in regard to what the movie will be like. Thus far the pair have been almost exclusively paired together when working with Edgar Wright. From Spaced to Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz, when the boys are together they usually have Wright as a guiding force. They are the holy trinity of film nerditry. Here they’re responsible for the script but it’s Greg Mottola of Superbad and Adventureland who is directing the action. Of course the tone is going to be a bit different. The thing that remains the same is the dynamic between Pegg and Frost, whose real life friendship permeates ever frame of the film and makes the whole thing work. You never don’t believe that these guys are lifelong pals because the two have such a natural rapport with each other. It’s endearing on many levels.
I’ve heard criticisms leveled at Paul decrying it as a self-absorbed fan-wank with little actual substance, existing only as an excuse for Frost and Pegg to indulge their nerdier side in a more direct way than they’d been able to in stuff like Shaun of the Dead. I would like to think that the movie works on more levels than that. There’s certainly enough genuine moments of friendship here between the two leads as well as their interactions with their new extra-terrestrial pal to offset the nudge-nudge in-jokes that permeate the script. What a lot of people don’t seem to get is that enough of what the script pays homage to can’t really be considered an in-joke because the setting and the characters within the film feel like everybody is a part of their culture just as much as they are. In their obliviousness, they don’t realize how the references to their nerd culture might sail right over the head of those not involved in the scene. Aside from that, who the hell doesn’t get Star Wars references. Star Wars can’t be considered niche in any way nowadays, much the same with Star Trek as it’s permeated into the popular culture so deeply that just about everybody gets the jokes almost instinctively.
Admittedly it’s not the best film of Pegg, Frost, or Mottola. I don’t think Mottola will ever be able to make something as perfect as he did with Adventureland and Pegg and Frost’s best work will most likely always be with Edgar Wright, as the magic that comes from their pairing seems to explode under his direction, but Paul is a worthy diversion and I hope it finds a bigger audience than its opening weekend numbers suggest.