On DVD: Paul

In a world post-“Avatar” and “District 9,” where lack of creativity can no longer be blamed on the limitations of special effects (if that was ever a scapegoat), the goal of the sci-fi movie has been to innovate. Filmmakers have completely abandoned the minefield of clichés that is the retro “Area 51” alien with a big green head and black ovular eyes. Now they’re into alien design with insect-like features, especially multiple extremities. 

“Paul,” on the other hand, dives right back into the old school. Our titular little green (greenish-blue?) man not only reinforces whatever stereotypes exist, but the reason is written into his back story in the form of a lighthearted but sentimental homage to the sci-fi films of yore, particularly Steven Spielberg’s two infamous entries, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.”

But above all else, “Paul” is a red-blooded on-the-run comedy that rejoices (quite innocently if you can believe it) in profanity with a self-irreverence that makes it hard for any honest geek/nerd/dork to dismiss.

For starters, after a prologue of sorts, the film opens at Comic-Con. Clive (Nick Frost) and Graeme (Simon Pegg) are two British buddies, one a sci-fi writer and the other an illustrator. After the convention, they aim to travel the Southwest and visit all the alleged UFO landing/spotting sites. They get exactly what they bargained for when a car wreck reveals Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a scrawny bug-eyed alien wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops who’s on the run from some feds. After Clive pisses his pants and Graeme is assured Paul won’t anally probe him, they embark on a road trip with Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and his cronies (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) in pursuit.

Say what you will about modern R-rated comedy, but “Paul” is a departure for “Superbad” and “Adventureland” filmmaker Greg Mottola. Although he manages at least some of the heart of those two films, “Paul” is foremost an exercise in goofy. Pegg and Frost wrote the script, so the comedy with an homage to another genre makes sense, but you’d expect a bit more sophistication from Mottola. Instead, he succeeds by recognizing the difference and playing to the strengths of the film, which is magnify the silliness and embrace the unoriginality. He uses melodramatic foreshadowing to cut the scenes from pursuer to pursued to compensate for the typical plot and he lets his actors take over with their own wit to keep them vibrant despite being one-dimensional.

For Pegg and Frost, this is not akin to their films with Edgar Wright. There’s the homage angle, but the satire is not as biting, nor is “Paul” an execution of homage before comedy but the other way around. “Paul” packs in references to sci-fi classics, but in a way that re-evokes the bright-eyed wonder that we first associated with the honored films when they came out. Music also plays heavily into this element of the film from the band at a local bar playing John Williams’ “Cantina Band” to other Williams/Spielberg-inspired scores.

You won’t have to catch all the references to like “Paul” and appreciate what it is. Kristen Wiig helps drastically in this way by changing up the main character dynamic and playing what could only be described as a “born-again sinner.” But there’s no “Doubt” that those who like “Paul” the most will be the science-fiction fans it caters to; it does little to try and make first contact outside its target demographic. Given the premise, no one who presses play should be surprised by that, so don’t expect any sympathy from this critic should you be.


3.5/5 Stars


Directed by Greg Mottola
Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kristen Wiig


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