Did you hear the one about the pair of British sci-fi/ comic book fans who attend the San Diego Comic-Con and subsequently meet a bona-fide foul-mouthed alien? You probably did if you ran across ads for Paul, the latest writing/starring collaboration from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The opening section is indeed a hoot for Comic-Con fans as myself (indeed, I wish there had been even more footage) as they pester pompous authors, take endless pictures, and wander with wide-eyed delight during their first trip to America. Pegg and Frost have such a nice rapport (if you want to see them in prime form, rent Shawn of the Dead or Hot Fuzz) that the arrival of the fugitive alien Paul, voiced by the ubiquitous Seth Rogen inevitably alters the balance, and not always for the better. Rogen’s Paul has his moments, especially when he recounts his use (or misuse) by the government, but the movie threatens to turn into the Seth Rogen show, when in fact, there are a number of worthy rivals for your attention, especially the wonderful Kristen Wiig as an extremely religious, father-dominated woman who becomes liberated by Paul and becomes a walking fount of profane malapropisms. Jason Bateman (who also seems everywhere) is on target as the government agent who’ll stop at nothing to find Paul, while a familiar disembodied voice is the head honcho dedicated to Paul’s destruction. The movie overall is likable enough, but I missed the nonstop inspiration of the Pegg and Frost’s earlier endeavors (which were helmed by Edgar Wright–this was directed by Greg Mottola). The pacing is uneven and occasionally meandering, and the comic set pieces, while funny enough, rarely even come close to scaling the heights of hilarity. Still, Pegg and Frost are such a winning team that you’ll generally keep smiling, which makes it at least twice as good as what passes for comedy in your local multiplexes.
I also wanted to pay tribute to a cinematic giant. You know who I’m talking about…the late, great Michael Gough, whose theatrical flair graced the screens from the 1940’s till shortly before his recent death. Broadway fans might know him from his Tony-winning turn in Bedroom Farce Batman fans know him as Alfred the butler in the Tim Burton Batman films; fright fans know him as a Hammer Films villain, as in the underrated Phantom of the Opera– my Michael Gough is the gleefully overblown, fantastically florid menace of such films as Horrors of the Black Museum, The Black Zoo and the glorious Konga. To see Gough in these films is to see a master of supercilious self-assurance which frequently gives way to raging rants at a moment’s notice. In his finest over-the-top vituperative outbursts (usually stemming from his reaction to a world that he feels does not understand him), Gough goes from zero-sixty in the span of a nanosecond. To see him erupt at his wife in the Black Zoo is to make the Martha-George exchanges in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look like a waltz in the country. To see him try to force his affections on an unwilling coed in Konga, or better yet when he shrieks to his overgrown creation, “KONGA! PUT ME DOWN, YOU FOOL!” to witness a kind of theatrical magic seldom seen elsewhere. On a few occasions when I’ve acted, certain friends will say I remind them a little of Michael Gough. I say with no trace of irony that the sentiment is greatly appreciated. Mr. Gough, you will be missed.