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Review: Paul (2011)

Paul (2011)

Directed by: Greg Mottola

Premise: A pair of British science fiction fans (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) visit UFO hotspots in the western United States and come upon a fugitive alien (voice of Seth Rogan). The tourists take the alien to his spaceship while being pursued by government agents. 

What Works: Paul follows in the footsteps of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which were also written and stared Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Paul takes the same approach to the material, satirizing and making light of the conventions of a particular film genre, in this case science fiction, while simultaneously fulfilling them. It has been a successful formula for Frost and Pegg so far and Paul does it about as well. Fans of science fiction and fantasy will have fun spotting references to films like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and Aliens to name a few, and most should also enjoy the fun the film pokes at geek culture; it does get laughs at the fan’s expense but it manages to make a lot of observational humor that is teasing but not mean spirited. By now visual effects have reached a point where it is easy to ignore or take for granted excellent computer generated characters but the title character of Paul stands with the Tyrannosaurus Rex of Jurassic Park, Gollum of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and the title character of WALL-E among the better performances of digital characters. Seth Rogan’s vocals are the perfect match with the visual character. Although Rogan is going through his usual lovable slacker routine, placing him in the mouth of an alien makes for a very a lot of fun. Also amusing, although potentially troubling for some viewers, is Kristen Wiig as a fundamentalist Christian who loses her faith upon discovering the extra terrestrial. Wiig is an underrated actress both dramatically and comically (in part because her choices of material aren’t always as keen as her performing talents) but in Paul she gets a little bit of both. Although the script could have done more with her character, Wiig does give the film a little bit of depth and broader meaning as her character’s entire conception of life is turned upside down.

What Doesn’t: Where Paul falls a little short is in its structure as a road trip movie. Successful films in this format like The Blues Brothers, Zombieland, or Fanboys keep the laughs coming at each pit stop and the misadventures of their travels have a cumulative effect that comes to bear in the ending. Paul starts by introducing a smart ass alien and the duration of the film is the playing out of that joke, with interspersed references to geek culture along the way. Although the content with Kristen Wiig’s character helps, the film never gets beyond the joke that is the premise and so the narrative lacks momentum which results in a less than satisfactory climax.

Bottom Line: Paul is another hip and funny picture by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, although it is not nearly as good as their previous films together. As a bit of fun and as an indulgent tribute to science fiction, it is worth a viewing.

Episode: #333 (April 2, 2011)