It’s too early to say if Pegg and Frost will ever rise to the ranks of comedy duo nirvana like Gleason and Carney, Pryor and Wilder or Cheech and Chong, but there is something special that occurs when these two get together. Up to this point (with director Edgar Wright) they’ve hit three out of the park: the TV show Spaced, and cult hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
This weekend finds a new Pegg/Frost script in the hands of Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland), and the resulting Paul sees two British sci-fi geeks trekking across the U.S. in search of space-type stuff, only to wind up with the genuine artifact: an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). We decided to take a look at what has come before Paul, and offer this overview of the Pegg/Frost pairing thus far.
Spaced aired on the UK Channel 4 in 1999 and 2001 and was the first grouping of the Wright/Pegg/Frost triumvirate, but often left from the equation is co-writer and co-star Jessica Stevenson. Pegg has been known to take the press to task for not giving her equal credit. It was, however, Pegg’s idea to include the character of Mike Watt in the story and then, having done so, it was Pegg’s insistence to director Wright to cast Frost as the best friend to his cantankerous aspiring comic book artist character, Tim.
Stevenson plays Daisy who is not Tim’s girlfriend, but in order to snatch up a decent flat in London, pretends to be. Both are adamant to their friends that they are not a couple, but the friends don’t buy it. Indeed, the series is built on a bit of sexual tension between them. It is, however, more about Tim’s aspirations of being an artist and somehow achieving it, and how the oft-derided geek which would usually be the ever-losing whipping boy in the tradition of British humor climbs above it. At the same time, Daisy is on the downward slide of ambition. The comedy mixes the mundane with fast-paced cutaway humor. – Dw. Dunphy
Shaun of the Dead – Having explored the mundane, Pegg and Wright proceeded to write a script that took the next logical step: adding zombies to it. Pegg as the going-nowhere-fast Shaun finds himself and his slacker-dealer buddy Ed (Nick Frost) thrust into the world of zombie killers and saviors of family, all the while dealing with trivial things like phone calls at inappropriate times and needing to make due with the best weapons available (case in point, a collection of vinyl records. Instead of flinging them for dear life, Shaun and Ed cherry-pick through them for ones he no longer likes.)
It’s the combination of little behaviors and big catastrophes that make Shaun of the Dead so likable, and the understanding that this is not a parody of a zombie movie. It’s a zombie movie as slacker comedy parody, and while that might be putting too fine a point on it, the characters are always really in their circumstances and characters you don’t expect taking a hit actually do.
Speaking of whether this is parody or not, the effects would make a strong argument against “not,” and the screen is drenched with just as much viscera as would “the real thing,” only more often than not the gratuity caps a joke. Last Halloween, my brother ran the movie as part of his party and it all seemed to make a lot of sense. The mix of the terror and the funny of the film is exactly like a great Halloween night. – Dw. Dunphy
Hot Fuzz – What Shaun of the Dead is to the zombie flick, Hot Fuzz is to the buddy cop genre: an affectionate tweak that recognizes the conventions of the idiom while giving them new life with a combination of winking self-awareness and a surprisingly deep understanding of why they exist.
Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a no-nonsense cop whose fellow officers, tired of his constant heroism, conspire to have him transferred; he ends up in an idyllic country village with plenty of lovable eccentrics (including his new dimbulb partner, played by Frost) and no apparent crime. As a setup, it’s pretty basic, but as anyone who ever watched an episode of Newhart knows, you can get an almost infinite number of laughs by surrounding a straight man with rural weirdos — and if you can break up the laughs with some killer action set pieces, so much the better.
At 121 minutes, Fuzz is probably a good 20 minutes too long, and Pegg and Wright’s script never really takes advantage of the dark streak it hints at, but it proved that there’s still plenty of life left in the odd couple action thriller — and that you can have fun with it, too. – Jeff Giles