Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Spaced team faces its toughest challenge

Before they were the team of collaborators that brought us Shaun of the Dead, one of the most beloved zombie movies of all time, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost collaborated on a little British TV show called Spaced. It was about a guy (Pegg) who'd been dumped by his girlfriend, who moves in with a different girl (Jessica Hynes) -- merely platonically, or so it starts. It's the story of their lives and the lives of their goofy neighbors and friends -- and it was funny as hell. My wife and I watched both seasons a couple years ago.

Of course, after Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, the trio collaborated on Hot Fuzz in 2007, again coming away with a decent-sized hit -- even though it runs on arguably a half-hour too long.

Their fourth collaboration -- or fifth, if you want to include Frost and Pegg participating in Wright's Grindhouse trailer, Don't -- comes out today. It's Paul, and it's one of those movies some of us tell people we want to see, even though we're not really sure we actually do want to see it.

As you probably know, Paul is a movie about an alien with the speech mannerisms of Seth Rogen -- because it's Seth Rogen doing the voice -- and the two dimwits who hook up with him, played by Pegg and Frost. If anyone else's names were on this movie other than Pegg, Frost and Wright, we'd be running from it at full speed. However, since it's them, we're willing to give it a shot.

I should say that Wright is only the executive producer of this film -- one of five -- and not its director. And here's where a big warning flag goes up for me. Paul is directed by Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad. For most people, this is a good thing -- in fact, the ad campaign focuses almost exclusively on the Superbad connection, not on anything the Spaced team has done. For me, however, I found Superbad overrated -- perhaps grossly overrated. I don't give it a thumbs down, but I'm pretty wary of it. I'm even more wary of the film Mottola made in between Superbad and Paul, which is Adventureland. It had some of the same tonal problems I detected in Superbad, only it made them a lot meaner. I do like Mottola's first film, The Daytrippers, but that was a lifetime ago, back in 1996.

However, I will say that the best part of Superbad was the cops behaving badly with their sidekick, McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). One of those cops was played by Rogen, who does the voice of the title character here. But I think Rogen is on the downswing of his likability as a performer right now. He'd be there even if The Green Hornet hadn't been a disaster, but it was -- and probably the worst thing about it was how unlikable he was. Now, I liked Rogen voicing a monster in Monsters vs. Aliens. I just don't know if I'll like Rogen voicing an alien in Paul.

There's an X factor here that throws out of whack our ability to forecast the movie's quality. The fact that it was written by Pegg is not such a surprise -- he's been credited as a writer on all of his collaborations with Frost and Wright (he and Wright created Spaced together). However, this time Frost is also credited as a writer -- his first writing credit on a feature. My guess is that Pegg did most of the heavy lifting and threw his buddy a bone, but it's hard to say for sure. I'd be inclined to view their involvement with the script as a positive, but it's not quite so cut-and-dried as that. After all, Pegg also wrote the screenplay for Run Fat Boy Run, which I thought was loathsome. Maybe we can blame Michael Ian Black, who has the "story by" credit as well as a co-screenwriter credit, for that one.

Anyway you slice it, a movie about two stoners hanging out with a refugee from Area 51 is a tough sell -- or could be, anyway. You're relying on "smart stoners" to watch it -- intellectuals who like a good laugh (and like to toke up), who were really the ones who gave Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz their large cult followings. The problem with "smart stoners" is that they tend to call bullshit at a certain point. Whether Paul is an instance of that or not remains to be seen.

But not seen by me -- at least, not this weekend. I should be honest and say that I plan to devote much of my free time to watching college basketball this weekend. But even if I didn't, I'd see Limitless, not Paul.

So, why didn't I write about Limitless today? Simple: Couldn't think of anything to say. Sometimes, that's all that goes into it.


Don Handsome said...

I have to say, I am actually really pumped for Paul. Not only because Frost and Pegg can get me into the theater, but also because I'm enthralled with the "old" style alien design - Its good to see an alien that's not cutesy or a muppet but also somewhat timeless (there's nothing complicated about Paul's design but I appreciate that. He looks like he'd be more at home in the X-Files than in Independence Day).

Regardless, I'm not calling bullshit until after I see Paul. But based on its previews, I'll call bullshit right now on Limitless - it looks like a yuppie Crank.

Vancetastic said...

Right - I don't think a "sophisticated" looking alien would work in a comedy. Besides, he looks like the alien in the Alien Beef Jerky sign on the way to Vegas.

And what would be so bad about a yuppie Crank? (Then again, you're talking to a guy who really liked the non-yuppie Crank, and liked the sequel to the non-yuppie Crank even better.)