Film review by: Witney Seibold
While screenwriters Simon Pegg and Nick Frost claim that Greg Mottola‘s “Paul” is not part of the so-called “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy (which also contains their cult hits “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”), it still feels very much a part with their previous works. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) was a slightly sloppy, but very fun horror comedy that riffed very visibly on the conventions of zombie films, and was clearly written by people who know their zombie movies. “Hot Fuzz” (2007), has a similarly rambunctious approach to the action genre. “Paul,” about a pair of British, comic-book-obsessed man-children (Pegg and Frost) who find themselves unwittingly aiding a crashed space alien, is the pair’s riff on science fiction. Not a scene goes by in which a character doesn’t make a reference to a well-known sci-fi film, or unwittingly quotes a cult sci-fi TV series.
For the most part, this feels like a witty riff on well-known popular media, but often feels like a cutesy catalog of nerd passwords. Which is all well and good for mainstream sci-fi geeks (who are no longer outsiders), but may be a little alienating for people looking for a solid movie. “Paul,” as a result, feels a bit too long and times, and may be a bit too clever by half at other times. Overall, though, it’s pretty amusing.
I think a lot of the problem stems from the casting of Seth Rogen as the voice of Paul. Rogen plays his usual persona; that of a put-upon, functional pothead. Not that Rogen wasn’t funny in the role; he’s actually pretty hysterical. But the alien, it seems, should have been, more, well, alien. Pegg and Frost play the kinds of fellows who would be perfectly suited to look after an alien; they’re the kinds of sci-fi nerds who actually thought about what they would do beforehand (and, admit it, some of you have as well). One would think that a centuries-old alien who has been in prison for the past 60 years would be a little more, well, wizened. A little more hard-edged. Nope. Goofy stoner it is. I also didn’t like that Paul was animated using CGI; I think the alien would have looked a lot better had they used puppetry. But then, I feel that way about most movie beasties.
The film is essentially a road trip about friendship and Americana. Pegg and Frost must take Paul the alien in their rented RV from one state to another so he can, well, go home. Paul can turn invisible, heal people with his hands, is bisexual, and crack pop culture wise with the best of them. It turns out that Paul has been leaking all the good sci-fi ideas to film directors for years; “The X-Files” was his idea. Along the way, our trio picks up a young woman (Kristen Wiig), who is a vitriolic creationist whose beliefs are shaken by the appearance of an alien. After that, she seems a little too eager to take on the drugs, cussing and fornication she had previously forsworn. In these scenes, “Paul” takes on a distinctly British, Humian bent.
On their tail is a cadre of CIA spooks, led by Jason Bateman, and his goofy underlings, played by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio. The Hader and Lo Truglio characters were the funniest characters in the film, and had some of the best rapport.
America really kind of takes it on the chin in this film. The characters who aren’t extremist religious nuts are dangerous rednecks who would main and kill anyone they feel to be foreign or homosexual. The British heroes of the film feel constantly at risk, and few people they meet are perceived as friendly.
I’m sorry, has it sounded like I’m merely slagging on this film? I should state categorically that I did like “Paul,” and that I laughed a lot during it. I liked the clever premise (sci-fi fans meet real space alien), and I liked many of the performances. There were, however, a few missteps along the way. It is still, however, a worthy part of the Pegg-Frost cycle.