11 March 2011


From left, Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig, Nick Frost and Paul the alien (voice of Seth Rogen) are shown in a scene from the film "Paul."
Watching their movies, especially the ones they make together, you get the sense that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be lined up to see them on opening night if they were not the stars.

"Paul," like "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) and "Hot Fuzz" (2007) before it, is filled lovingly with references to other films and pop culture—science fiction and general movie geekdom in this case. It gently pokes fun but never openly mocks its protagonists, sci-fi nuts Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), playing like a love letter more than anything else.

Pegg and Frost wrote the screenplay together, and when the movie opens with Graeme and Clive attending that hub of geek activity, Comic-Con International in San Diego, you easily can imagine the two actors doing the very same thing.

After meeting revered author Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), Graeme and Clive, longtime friends who refer to each other as "Eggy" and "Sausage," set out in an RV to tour famous UFO sites in the American heartland.

Near Area 51 in Nevada, they come across a most unusual hitchhiker: Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a little gray alien who crash-landed in Wyoming in 1947 and has spent the past 60-plus years advising the U.S. government and influencing the depiction of aliens throughout popular entertainment. Having outlived his usefulness, he's hightailing it to a rendezvous with a spaceship that will take him home.

The Feds are hot on Paul's trail—grim-faced man in black Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), who reports to the ominous "Big Guy" (Sigourney Weaver), and two eager rookie agents (Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio).

In an RV park along the way, Graeme, Clive and Paul pick up Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a staunch intelligent design advocate (she wears a T-shirt showing Jesus shooting Darwin) who starts letting loose after being liberated from her Bible-thumping father (John Carroll Lynch) and confronted with Paul's existence.

The movie's central joke is that foulmouthed, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking Paul—essentially a computer-generated version of the typical Seth Rogen character—is more "human" than any of his counterparts. It takes an alien to show Graeme, Clive and Ruth how to live like actual human beings.

"Paul" is part road trip movie, part buddy comedy, part science fiction with a heavy dose of heart courtesy of Graeme and Clive's friendship, always the foundation when Pegg and Frost work together.

Removed from their native England and under the direction of Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Adventureland") instead of Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz"), the humor is broader and more American than their previous output. But don't worry, there are still plenty of instances of dry British wit.

Wonderful comic actors fill out the supporting cast—I haven't mentioned Jane Lynch yet. It's both a blessing and a curse; on one hand, everyone is capable of getting laughs, but on the other, when people like Tambor, Bateman, Hader and Lo Truglio show up, you want to see them do more than the movie allows.

It's a minor criticism, though; "Paul" is a very funny movie with its heart in the right place. I rank it above "Hot Fuzz" but short of the greatness of "Shaun of the Dead."

Greg's Grade: B+

(Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use. 104 minutes.)

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