Paul: I’ve read some grumbling about what a comedown sci-fi comedy Paul represents from the movies that stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made with Edgar Wright: Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Now, I like those movies (I’d even wager to say I like Hot Fuzz more than most, as I actually find it superior to Shaun of the Dead [Is that not a majority opinion? Hot Fuzz is a perfect movie, just ask Aaron Aaronson. -Ed.]). I’ve seen all of Spaced and I like that, too. But I’m not sure I buy the notion of Pegg and Frost as comic geniuses who should not be debased by a talking-alien comedy. Their slacker-nerd personas from Spaced and Shaun aren’t particularly distinct or razor-sharp; they made a more combustible team when ribbing buddy-cop movies in Fuzz, and even that movie has plenty of broad English comedy silliness that doesn’t exactly reach Python levels of transcendence.
If Paul has any disappointment on the line, it may be for fans of Greg Mottola, an indie/TV director who returned to the comedy scene with the wonderful Superbad and Adventureland, two movies that are frankly superior to anything Pegg and Frost have done so far (Wright only earns an exception for Scott Pilgrim). Granted, the combination of Mottola, Pegg, Frost, Seth Rogen (voicing the alien), Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, and Bill Hader does promise fun, and it’ll be a bummer if the movie stumbles, but I’m not going to feel betrayed if it isn’t some kind of geek manifesto slash masterwork. Simon Pegg made Run Fatboy Run, a comic vehicle as lazy as anything from his U.S. counterparts. Nick Frost, charming as he can be, pretty much always plays a standard wacky sidekick. Get a grip, nerds. Sam Weisberg’s review takes a more reasonable tone.
Win Win: I’m always happy to see Tom McCarthy turn up as a character actor, but his two well-liked features as writer-director, The Station Agent and The Visitor, left me, if not cold, slightly lukewarm; they’re just so genteel and quiet and restrained. In other words, they could’ve used the noisier (but still indie-friendly!) irascibility of Paul Giamatti, so I’m up for McCarthy’s newest, praised at Sundance a few months ago, where Giamatti plays a down-on-his-luck wrestling coach who takes in a promising runaway.
Limitless and The Lincoln Lawyer: I suppose it’s not so surprising that there would be a weekend where Matthew McConaughey, Josh Lucas, and Bradley Cooper would all turn up in new releases, though it is curious that someone saw fit to fit McConaughey and Lucas into a single movie, which makes me want to see The Lincoln Lawyer if only to monitor whether their scenes together are achieved through trickery of special effects or possibly time-travel (Lucas may be younger, but doesn’t he come off as the older, more serious version of McConaughey’s endless, feckless youth?). But all three smug blondies are cast in studio movies with such relentless consistency that this alignment really should’ve happened back in 2006 or so, when at least two-thirds of them were even more popular (with studio execs, if not necessarily actual audiences). So the real surprise is that all three aren’t appearing in a single movie together as fussin’ and a-feudin’ cousins. My esteemed editor Mark Asch has determined that said movie would be titled The High Foreheads and Toned Abs of the Bellflower Clan and I would have to agree.
Not to bury the lede here—I don’t think I have—but I’ve actually seen Limitless. As a pulpy, empty thriller, it mostly works, with some neat visual show-offs from director Neil Burger (last seen getting out-magicked by Nolan when The Prestige upstaged Burger’s The Illusionist). As a sci-fi parable about how so many people consider themselves secret geniuses with locked-up potential, well, it stars Bradley Cooper, so it may or may not have its own self-reflexive commentary going on, but the movie doesn’t really capitalize on that thinky stuff. Cooper isn’t bad: not as the shlubby writer (!) who takes an off-market designer drug that unlocks said potential, and not as the slick jerk he becomes, inevitably, because he’s played by Bradley Cooper. Like The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless is a reasonably well-made thriller aimed at adults that doesn’t quite stick its landing—a genre exercise without punctuation at the end.