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Paul (2011)

March 17, 2011

written by: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
produced by: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, & Eric Fellner
directed by: Greg Mottola
rated R (for language including sexual references, and some drug use)
104 min.
U.S. release date: March 18, 2011
With both “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, best buds Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have written and starred in entertaining films that pay homage to genres dear to their heart. Neither of those zombies and buddy cop films (both directed by Edgar Wright) were aspiring to be anything more than what they were, but they were infused with contagious humor, intentional in-jokes and a certain unabashed sweetness, that made them easy revisits. Pegg and Frost have reteamed to write an ode to fanboys (settle down, it’s a term of endearment that also includes girls) of comic books and science fiction. This time, with director Greg Mottola (“Superbad” and “Adventureland”), they give us an absurd and infectious riff on sci-fi comedy that will give those in-the-know a knowing grin throughout.
What is essentially a road trip movie, starts out in San Diego at the infamous Comic-Con, where all things pop culture collide. This is where geeks and nerds call home and in the middle of it all, artist Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are delightfully giddy. It’s only the first stop though for these blokes on holiday. They’ve rented an enormous RV and have mapped out a sci-fi tour across the American southwest that includes some choice extraterrestrial landmarks. They are about to have a close encounter of the unexpected kind, when they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a little grey alien they meet late one night on the side of a desert road. Both are considerably and reasonably dumbfounded, Graeme stands there mouth agape while Clive wets himself and faints.
PAUL Nick Frost


Turns out this stoner-talking, potty-mouthed alien needs a ride up north to rendezvous his skinny butt back home. Although it’s quite serendipitous that he runs into these two believers in otherworldly life, it still takes Paul some time to get this dumbfounded duo to come to terms their new traveling companion. But that’s no problem since they’re in a recreation vehicle on an open road with plenty of time to kill. Or so they think.
Closing on their tail is the determined Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, who’s character has a hilarious first name) and his dim-bulb lackeys (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio, both quite funny) who are on a mission to retrieve government property and return it to a certain “Area” in New Mexico. Their boss, known as The Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver, queen of sci-fi action and comedy) wants Paul back where he’s been for the past 60 years, holed up in a safeguarded warehouse as a consultant for both the government and Hollywood (the later of which is well-played in a clever elbow-nudge). The antagonists are simply broad-stroked figures accessorized with suits and sunglasses, that serve to move the protagonists to their destination. 
Appropriately, they are more of a joke than they are a threat, as one would expect in a movie named after a slacker CGI alien who wears only cargo shorts. Maybe they are after Paul for his healing powers or ability to go invisible in the buff or maybe they just want to cover up the truth now that it is….out there.
Now, it wouldn’t be an entertaining road trip if it not for the supporting characters our hapless heroes meet on their sci-fi sojourn. It serves as a great opportunity to provide the audience with some fun performances from a good selection of talent. Graeme and Clive have a hilarious and awkward pre-Paul interraction with two hillbilly hunters (played by Friday Night Light’s Jessie Plemmons and the great David Koechner) at a roadside diner run by Jane Lynch. After Paul is added, their group dynamic changes, even moreso once they make a stop at The Pearly Gates, an overtly Christian RV park.
PAUL Seth Rogen
There they meet a one-eyed Jesus Freak named Ruth (Kristin Wiig, confidently bringing the silly), who lives a sheltered life free from the freaks of the world that is closely monitored by her father (John Carroll Lynch), a shotgun-toting cartoon nutjob. Graeme is smitten by her and Clive sees her as a threat to the duo’s bromance. Once she is inadvertantly exposed to Paul, they are forced to take her along for the ride, which injects a needed shot of estrogen while seriously challenging her faith. Near the end of the gang’s journey, they are brought together with an old woman (Blythe Danner, displaying great comic timing) who has a unique connection to Paul. 
All of these appearances make “Paul” quite a trip, but it’s Pegg and Frost (not even the titular alien) who make the film a blast. Sure their story is formulaic, riffing on Spielberg classics in a bold and crass way, yet it is grounded by the natural chemistry the duo has established. They give the same effortless (and needed) foundation to the movie that they’ve brought to their previous work. It continues to be a joy to see this two respond and react to each other and their surroundings and if you already enjoy seeing them together, it’s hard not to like them here.
PAUL Jason Bateman
The only hesitation I had going into this movie was Paul. I was afraid seeing a computer-generated comedy relief work alongside humans throughout the film would be too cheesy or jarring. I also wasn’t looking forward to seeing a voice so recognizable come out of an unoriginal-looking creature. How many times have we seen Rogen play the laid-back stoner dude? do we really need to see him dressed up as a little grey man? Well, it only took me about 20 minutes to get used to Paul and all his quirks. He was still a little odd for my senses, but that’s kind of the point. Regardless, Rogen has proven before that his voice is perfect for animated characters and this irreverant role cements such work.
Despite being very funny, the movie isn’t without its weaknesses and failures. There’s a running gag involving profanity that just goes overboard early on and never lets up. Paul swears like a sailor. Fine. Then he teaches Ruth the art of cursing. For someone who recently awakened from her Christian fundamentalist coma and now has unshackled her unhibitions, this gets out of hand quickly. Wiig already draws us in with her charm, so it’s unnecessary and tiring to witness her blurt such excessive and often unfunny swears. 
But that’s not all that gets run into the ground, there’s also entirely too many homophobic cracks as well as contant stabs at Christianity. A couple pot shots here and there is fine but after awhile, it all gets old and lazy. Still, I can’t say any of that was entirely surprising, just disappointing.
I’ll will readily admit that this kind of film appeals to me. Growing up on Lucas, Spielberg (who makes an appearance) and Star Trek with my nose deep in comic books and Starlog, I immediately connected to the material. In an amalgam of ” Dumb and Dumber” and “Galaxy Quest” the film is a joyous romp through geekdom. Like his other films, Mottola does well to allow the characters of Graeme and Clive to become fully-realized. Then again, he has self-professed fanboys as his stars, and in their passionate tribute, they provide little room for mockery.
 RATING: ***

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