Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Paul"

Paul - Directed by Greg Mottola, written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, starring Pegg, Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, and Seth Rogen - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan is not a geek, but he understands what geeks (especially the critic on this site) like and Paul gets his endorsement.


There is no shortage of alien films coming out of Hollywood these days. Cinemagoers have always been interested in the possibility of alien life forms showing up on our planet. Usually they want to kill all of us, sometimes for no reason at all. Less often, they turn out to be lovable creatures that are so cuddly and safe that they end being friends with your children. So why do we need any more alien movies at all since it’s been done to death? Well, there hasn’t really been an attempt to openly create an R-rated buddy-alien movie aimed directly at geeks. That might be a niche market, but the end result, Paul, is very enjoyable one, potentially for more than just the dorks among us.

Paul is basically a buddy road trip movie. Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are two Brits who have traveled to America to go to Comic-Con and a tour of all the extraterrestrial hot spots in the southwest. Things go awry when they come across an actual extraterrestrial: Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). After that, their trip isn’t a vacation; it’s a mission. And along the way they encounter all manner of different characters like religious fanatics, inept government agents, and rednecks.

This film is first and foremost a movie for people of the same ilk as Graeme and Clive. Not British, but the type of people who would go to Comic-Con. Paul is filled with references to geeky pop culture: Klingon is spoken, there are Star Wars references galore, a certain heroine from a classic sci-fi flick shows up, etc. In short, this is an alien movie that acknowledges all other alien movies. If you’re into those kinds of movies, you’re more likely to enjoy this one than most people. But there is still plenty of comedy for all.

Paul features enough standard comedy fare to keep the less geeky audience members laughing as well. There are the standard physical comedy bits, but the film mainly relies on its R-rating to bring the laughs. Foul language can sometimes be seen as a crutch for comedy, but this film features the hilarious gimmick of a reformed goody two-shoes trying to improvise cuss words. That bit might get stale for some, but it worked throughout for this reviewer.

Even if some of the bits don’t knock it out of the park for some, the cast should be able to elevate the material. Pegg and Frost have been working together for years (and are actual best friends in real life) so they completely work as a comedic duo (and it helps that they served as screenwriters on this one). Rogen brings an interesting voice to the alien that is consistently amusing. Kristen Wiig was hilarious as the aforementioned improvisational foul mouth. Jason Bateman is solid as the determined agent, but his role is really elevated by dealing with his halfwit underlings, played by Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader. There are more, but you get the idea: the cast is strong with this one.

Perhaps the most important element of the film, though, is Paul himself. The alien is computer generated but he felt like an onscreen presence throughout. It would have been devastating to the film if Paul came across as overtly fake. Also, his design might leave a bit to be desired, but the screenplay has a great element that takes care of that. It turns out that the government has slowly been leaking Paul’s identity through pop culture to make it easier on the public if the alien is ever revealed, which explains why Paul looks like such a clich├ęd alien. That also opens the script up to make many more pop culture references as Paul claims ownership to countless classic sci-fi moments.

Paul is far from perfect, though. The rednecks and religious fanatics mentioned above are kind of weak villains. Their complete idiocy gives this film an overly atheist and liberal feel. This isn’t a film to get bent out of shape over, though, so you should be able to ignore it. But some people have strong feelings about some of the religious topics brought up and could potentially be offended. None of that stuff really bothered me. The issue I had with the film was that it started off quite weak and a little too goofy. And even though the film has dozens of pop culture references, it seemed like the filmmakers were toning it down a bit for fear of (no pun intended) alienating their audience. But that is a minor nit to pick, to be sure.

Paul is a comedy aimed at the geeks among us, but there is enough here to keep most people entertained. Aliens don’t always have to show up to kill us. Sometimes they just want to make us laugh. Fortunately, Paul does just that.


Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Just wanted to point out a few references I enjoyed:

The cantina music is the road house was great.

It was a nice reference when Bateman shot his radio and said, "Boring conversation anyway."

It was hilarious when Pegg and Frost recreated an alien fight from the original "Star Trek" TV show.

Frost's ewok fetish...

I dug the E.T. jokes, and it was very cool that Spielberg lent his voice the film.

Sigourney Weaver was borderline cheesy, but it was still cool to see her in this.

Some Indiana Jones references were amusing, like Bateman calling Paul “Short Round” and Paul hanging out in the warehouse from Raiders.

Of course, there had to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind references and they worked as part of the plot device that Paul has actually had a hand in creating all of these classic sci-fi films we love.

Finally, there's no reference to this, but Paul is kind of like Roger from "American Dad," except not nearly as cynical, sadistic, or sociopathic. I don't see this as a ripoff of that character or anything, but I do find some similarities, especially when they have to disguise Paul as a cowboy.

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