“PAUL” IS AN INVENTIVE (YET SOMETIMES INCENDIARY) ADDITION TO THE PEGG/FROST COMEDY COLLABORATIONS
Ever wonder how E.T. would have turned out if he had been found by Charlie Sheen? Well, apparently comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost did. By using just such an alien with all the attached idiosyncrasies from Hell, the two comic geniuses scrapped together one of the more entertaining sci-fi spoofs in years.
Pegg and Frost play Graeme and Clive – two European sci-fi nerds (you know the type – the little boys who just never grew up) who are on their first road trip through America in order to travel to all our amazing extraterrestrial sites. Their mode of transportation? A clunky RV. Their first stop? Comic-Con in San Diego, California.
We quickly learn that Clive is a sci-fi graphic novelist and Graeme is his talented artist. The two are such close buds that, quite frequently, they are mistaken for being on their honeymoon. Not really funny, but better jokes take over fairly quickly.
Their road trip hits a snag when they run into Paul (dryly voiced by Seth Rogen) – a f-bomb-dropping, chain-smoking, drug-using Roswell alien who is trying to escape from (you guessed it) a top-secret government facility hell-bent on harvesting his massive brain for further study. Paul convinces them to help him get to his rendezvous where his incoming intergalactic rescuers will soon be waiting for him, but the three are stealthily being followed by government agent Zoil (played by a very cool and very collected Jason Bateman). On the way, our three heroes randomly come across a wide assortment of supporting characters played by impressive guest stars – including Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Blythe Dapper, Jeffrey Tambor, and a very special appearance by perhaps the greatest living sci-fi female icon alive (whose name shall remain unspoken).
Now there’s a lot to like about “Paul.”
First, I have to say that the look of Paul is astoundingly good. For a role like this, the visual team getting the look of Paul right is just as crucial as it was for Peter Jackson with Gollum for “Lord of the Rings.” Both passed with flying colors.
Also, the story is fascinating and fun. At times, it’s nice to sit back and be entertained by a smart story that doesn’t talk down its audience. The majority of the spoof jokes land with the common grand-slam flair of Pegg and Frost’s writing style. It takes a geek to write this kind of material well, and man, both of these guys nail it. “Paul” taps into the humor of being a nerd in today’s pop culture in a way that makes it difficult to surpass.
Fans of the two previous Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaborations, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” will find “Paul” to definitely be in the same humor vein. Unfortunately, at least for me, there was one glaring misfire that took away a lot from my enjoyment. And that would be the overt religious slams. Now I’m all for little religious pokes as long as they’re evened out and aren’t frequent. But “Paul” goes to Ricky Gervais heights in bashing Christianity. One of the supporting characters is a extreme Christian who wears a violent tee-shirt of Jesus (screaming “evolve this!”) blowing off Charles Darwin’s head. But when this character meets Paul, her entire faith is thrown out the window and she begins to change from innocent and pure to – in her words – “fornicating” and “vulgar.” Now it is a little funny to hear a first-time curser try to be creative, but, overall, it gets just plain insulting. The overall image of Christianity is horrible.
Still, the film is broad enough where this story arc isn’t constantly in your face. And that is why I don’t define the entire movie by this one element. The movie is good, no doubt about that. And, as I said, there is a lot to like. More than there is to dislike.
While Simon and Frost aren’t as dryly funny as in the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” or as spoofy as in the action-cop satire “Hot Fuzz,” they are constantly inventive and observant of the genre in which they exist. Their homages come in the sizes and shapes of basically every alien film out there, from “Men in Black” to “E.T.” to “Star Wars” to “Star Trek” to “Alien.”
For people who don’t have a bit of a geek buried deep inside, they just aren’t going to “get” the humor here. We alone get the irony of Paul giving Stephen Spielberg realistic scientific pointers as to how E.T. would be able to heal people. We alone hear the Mos Eisley Cantina’s melody from “A New Hope” being subtly played bluegrass-style in a bar. We alone get the Star Wars homage to someone shooting a radio and saying, “Boring conversation anyway.”
The magic of “Paul” is how (like Tim Allen’s “Galaxy Quest”) it acts as a mirror in which we, the fans, can recognize ourselves and laugh at what we must look like to the outside world. And why not laugh? Extreme fans are hilarious people to watch – from “Fanboys” to “Trekkies” to most Kevin Smith films.
Comparing this to the ilk of its genre – with “Galaxy Quest” being the best and “Vampires Suck” being the worst – “Paul” slides in the higher hemisphere as being witty enough to pass as original and funny enough to pass as a comedy. But the main appeal of the film will be how it gives sci-fi nerds a chance to get together in their nerdiness and laugh themselves silly at how much fun it is to watch the typical nerd’s idiosyncrasies.