Laugh it up, fanboys ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Laugh it up, fanboys

My rating:

I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I love movies that can pull off the tricky trifecta of mocking a genre, yet show boundless affection for it, and be a solid entry in that genre in its own right. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost - and their frequent collaborator, Edgar Wright - are acknowledged masters of this, and I'll watch anything they make. (Not so much the ones with just Pegg though.) Paul, their latest, was released 2 months ago in the States and 3 months ago in the UK, and has already earned a reputation of being good, but not at the level of their previous two films. Well, maybe if I watched all three back-to-back, I might agree.

But right now, I can't see it. It's massively entertaining, and the best laughs I've had at the movies in a long time.

Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are two British sci-fi fanboys who have come to America to visit San Diego Comic-Con first, and take an RV road trip tour through the Midwest's most famous UFO sites second. But while on the road, they encounter Paul (voice of Seth Rogen) - rude, uncouth, cigarette-smoking, weed-toking, and also an alien. Paul has just escaped from government custody, and needs Graeme's and Clive's help to make it to a place where his people can take him home. On the way, they also pick up Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a fundamentalist Christian whose worldview is changed shattered by Paul, but this only makes Ruth's domineering father (John Carroll Lynch) pursue them with a vengeance and a shotgun. Also hot on Paul's tail is the ruthless Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) - supposedly-aided-but-more-often-hindered by two other bumbling operatives (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) - whose superior (Sigourney Weaver) doesn't much care if Paul returns dead or alive.

Malaysian audiences are shamefully ignorant. Oh no, it's not because the audience at my viewing didn't enjoy this movie; they did, uproariously. It's because this movie is dense with in-jokes and references to a dozen other classic sci-fi films, and almost every one sailed over their heads. Mac And Me. The song playing in the redneck bar. "Boring conversation anyway." And an absolutely delicious one aimed at Sigourney Weaver which it would be criminal of me to spoil. I was literally the only one laughing at these, but I'm pretty sure there were even more jokes that I missed. Just those ones I mentioned above were awesome enough.

Yes, as befits a movie about two sci-fi geeks made by two sci-fi geeks, Paul is chock-full of sci-fi geekery. And yet it remains accessible and entertaining for non-geeks, because as I said, even the audience I watched it with had a great time. The dialogue is hilariously vulgar, which is possibly still a new thing to Malaysian moviegoers. (If you're still not aware yet, rated 18 now means profanity is completely uncensored.) As writers, Pegg and Frost display a mastery of the running gag that should be the envy of comedy writers everywhere. As actors, they have no problems playing likable characters, and Frost's Clive even gets a little more dimension than the one-note clueless morons he played in Shaun and Fuzz. And just like those two films, this one takes care to tell a real story, not just a string of jokes.

It's probably not the tightest story though, being a road movie after all. Somewhere in its second half, they pick up yet another character, Tara Walton (Blythe Danner), and her subplot is perhaps not as well-developed as it deserves. But it is warm and touching, which is another thing about the movie that I liked. He may be voiced by Seth Rogen, and he may practically be a typical Seth Rogen character, but Paul is more than just another slacker/party animal/asshole/mainstay of many a modern American comedy. He develops a real warmth for his new human friends, has a conscience and a desire to make right his mistakes, and his loutish behaviour never becomes dickish or causes lazy plot complications. As much as you may dislike Rogen or Rogen-ish characters, Paul is always more than that.

That's probably because two Brits wrote it. In many ways, this movie is also an outsider's view of America, as seen by two foreigners and one literal alien. It takes potshots at drunken rednecks and Christian fundies, and I've read a fair bit of huffing about this from butthurt Americans. Suck it up, I'd say to them; Hollywood has done more than its fair share of insulting portrayals of other countries and cultures, it's time to taste some of it yourselves. Though it's amusing to think that Pegg and Frost are doing it in their most Americanised film to date - produced by an American studio (Relativity Media) and directed by an American (Gregg Mottola, who previously made Adventureland). In any case, I thought it was freakin' funny.

I thought the whole damn movie was freakin' funny, and that ought to be as good a recommendation as any. Y'know, thinking about it, perhaps it is the weakest Pegg-Frost movie thus far. I'm remembering how Shaun's and Fuzz's jokes were more sly and sophisticated, whereas this movie tends to cover the same comic ground in a more obvious manner. (Compare the gay jokes, f'rinstance. And yes, for the complainers, there were plenty of gay jokes in the other two movies too.) But like I said, I'd have to watch all three back-to-back to be sure. And I also think it'd be niggardly to pronounce this a lesser film when it is already so terrifically entertaining. Because it is. Even for folks who didn't catch the reference to the Kirk-Gorn fight.

Expectations: three 4-star summer movies so far - clearly it can't last