STARRING: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Seth
Rogen, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver,
Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch
2011, 104 Minutes, Directed by:
should be a simple wacky sci-fi comedy filled with pot humor, unrelenting
profanity, gay panic, and dry Brit humor . . .
Instead, the film is primarily
constructed as a valentine to the fantasy genre, showing more interest dreaming
up inside movie references than one-liners. Paul is pure geek bait, an
oasis of unadulterated affection for all things sci-fi. The movie bleeds green.
Thankfully, in the care of screenwriters / stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the
picture casts an amusing intergalactic spell, borrowing a Spielbergian concept
and filling it with all sorts of enjoyable absurdity and R-rated mischief.
Two English buddies still
reeling from their otherworldly adventures at Comic-Con, Graeme (Simon Pegg) and
Clive (Nick Frost) have embarked on an RV tour of American alien encounter
landmarks, hoping to soak up some extraterrestrial history to feed their geek
Instead of tourist traps, the
boys find Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an actual alien who needs help from the
baffled pair to make his way home again after years spent feeding the military
and Hollywood his secrets. Accepting the challenge, Graeme and Clive hit the
road with the sociable visitor, forming a bond with Paul that’s put to the test
when Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) picks up their trail, speeding across the
southwest to capture the prized alien for his enigmatic government boss.
With Paul, Frost and
Pegg, along with director Greg Mottola (Superbad), employ a formulaic
story of a runaway alien and his human pals as an excuse to monkey with a genre
that’s informed their cinematic tastes.
"What the film lacks in belly laughs it more than makes up for in
It’s bold and broad, but not
exactly a farce, with the screenplay taking time to understand the passions of
the characters before embarking on wilder bits of humor. Paul might have
the appearance of one-note slapstick marathon, but Pegg and Frost shake up the
film with their personalized sense of humor, lending the film more of a fanboy
personality than a consistently vibrating funny bone.
While muted to a certain
extent, Paul has a majestically crude comic spirit, spotlighting an alien
that enjoys marijuana and causal cursing. A little green jokester, Paul isn’t
handled with any sort of widescreen awe, instead put forth as a wiseacre with
magical healing powers, bonding with his human pals over the mysteries of the
universe and the joys of full frontal nudity.
Voiced with a pitch-perfect
irreverent tone by Rogen (if there was ever a wit built for CG creatures, it’s
this guy), Paul is an intriguingly profane discovery, painfully aware of human
reaction to his appearance and tired of using his powers of invisibility. All he
seems to crave is weed and conversation, making the character less of a joke
machine and more of an amusing peculiarity. A little green bro.
Expectedly, Frost and Pegg fill
their nerdy roles with zeal, having a blast playing second fiddle to a
smart-aleck visual effect. The performances are charming instead of overly
bothered, with an easy chemistry that helps the film find what passes here for
sensitivity. Also merry is Kristen Wiig, playing a one-eyed bible-thumper who
craves sinful delights once Paul shares his view of the universe with the
frightened woman. Wiig gives the silly business a friendly texture, adding a
foul mouth and some needed feminine spark to the acidic merriment.
Paul is a very funny
picture, but it doesn’t always chase the joke, which initially feels like a
major tonal mistake. However, what the film lacks in belly laughs it more than
makes for in sheer geekery, with Mottola and the writers filling the frame with
references galore, most centered on the cinema of Steven Spielberg. A few of the
gags and lines are clunky, delivered self-consciously by the cast, but the
majority of the picture creates a swirling sense of sci-fi devotion, conveyed
with a heartfelt tone that makes Paul feel like an elaborate inside joke
most audiences should be able to enjoy.
The references only add to the
fun, making the feature a game of homages, which range from the obvious to the
terrifyingly particular. You don’t have to be a student of sci-fi to get all the
jokes, but Pegg and Frost script with a geek POV, creating a passion that helps
to elevate the film when it tires of dick and fart jokes.
Paul works toward a
combustible climax with various enemies out to nab the alien before he reaches
his iconic rendezvous point, speeding toward an unexpected climax of
confrontation, not overt comedic accentuation. Pegg and Frost have faith in
their plot, and that dedication keeps the film engaging and unpredictable, even
while it lovingly pilfers from some of the most famous sci-fi blockbusters
around. that deploys bold hues carefully for a more substantial impact.
- Brian Orndorf