So, we’ve had their love letters to Romero and action movies. Now it’s time to give Spielberg the old romantic treatment. But do abundant ET and Indiana Jones – among countless other - references a comedy film make?
Just about, is the answer to that question – the film walking the knife-edge between accessible comedy and cult obscurity rather inelegantly, threatening to keel over into the latter at several moments, but just about making it to the other side.
Don’t get me wrong, cult obscurity is not only not a bad thing, but this very reviewer’s very own type of specialised knowledge. But I can get all the cult references I need from the beloved, glistening jewel that is the internet – I went to the cinema to see a movie.
The film tells the story of two British ‘companions’ – their words, not mine – Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) who’ve taken it upon themselves to grace Comic Con with their presence. That done, they head on a road-trip to visit the UFO landmarks in New Mexico. Much to their surprise, they acquire a hitchhiker – a rather world-weary alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped government custody and is trying to get home. The government organisation – being, y’know, evil – take exception to this, and the film charts the chaos that ensues.
It’s neatly written, but perhaps a touch predictable. However, being a character piece - let alone a serenade to Spielberg – one can forgive it for that particular quibble.
And, yes, there are plenty of Spielberg references, as well as a wealth of other treasured sci-fi franchises. Keep your eyes peeled for the warehouse from Raiders, the Close Encounters theme, the Star Wars cantina music, and countless others that will no doubt raise a chuckle. Just be prepared to be the only one laughing – I counted three occasions where my laughs were only echoed by about six people in an absolutely packed cinema.
Thankfully, broader laughs are acquired thanks to the easy chemistry between Pegg and Frost, with some of the film’s better moments stemming from the fit of jealousy that Clive experiences when both Paul and a newly converted atheist (Kristen Wiig) threaten to come between the two friends.
That’s not to say that Pegg and Frost are the only ones flexing their comedic muscles. Wiig is fantastically convincing as the one-eyed God-botherer who Paul forces to see – both literally and figuratively. Her transition – given the circumstances – from prim and proper Christian to foul-mouthed sceptic is played convincingly, and as the films sole attempt at satire, it’s actually fairly successful.
The four antagonists do a decent job as well, with Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglia going for brainless bravado as the two hapless agents under the command of Jason Bateman’s Lorenzo Zoil, who not only does a fantastic job as the deadpan foil to the former pair’s antics, but also delivers the best Star Wars reference in the film. Sigourney Weaver - despite her presence feeling like little more than a thinly spread Aliens joke – seems to have relished an opportunity to chew some scenery as the faceless agency boss.
But the true achievement is Paul himself. He’s expertly animated, and seamless integrated into the action, with Seth Rogen lending both his vocal and ‘athletic’ talents to the character. He’s the lynch-pin on which most of the conceits of the film hang, and Rogen does a great job of imbuing the character with not just a foul-mouthed yet oh-so-witty sense of humour, but also brings in a fantastic world-weariness which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. An alien that knows more about being human than two grown men? Who’d’ve thunk it?
At the end of the day, how much you get from Paul really depends on how into sci-fi and movies you are. For the average person, there’re a few decent laughs and a well-told story played out in entertaining fashion. No more than three stars. But if you know your movies, and are willing to look for the references, there’s a whole other level that the film can be enjoyed on. That’s the level I was on, so that means...