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'Paul' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

By

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in 'Paul'

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in 'Paul'

© Universal Pictures
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have delivered two of the best comedies of the last few years with Shaun of the Dead, a zombie romantic comedy (otherwise known as a zom-rom-com), and Hot Fuzz, a buddy/action/cop comedy full of laughs and big-name cameos. Pegg and Frost set the comedy bar high with those first two feature films and so hopes were high that they'd knock another one out of the ballpark - or cricket field. And with Paul, a celebration of all things sci-fi, Pegg and Frost do deliver solid laughs along with so many film references you'll have to watch it twice just to catch everything you missed. But does Paul live up to Shaun and Hot Fuzz? It tries really hard, but it just doesn't quite reach the comedy heights of its predecessors.
Paul is enjoyable and there are some really hysterical moments, but it just slightly misses the 'great' boat and lands instead in the realm of really good comedies. Maybe it's because, as happens with so many comedies, some of the best parts of the film are featured in the trailers and pre-release clips. Or maybe it's that there's a mostly unnecessary love story that slows the action down. Or, it could be - at least in my case - that expectations were so high that anything less than a Shaun of the Dead level production is disappointing. I wanted to love Paul, but found myself feeling merely infatuated with it instead.

The Story

British best buddies Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) have traveled to America to get their geek on. They kick off their road-trip with a stop at the San Diego ComicCon where they meet one of their idols, Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), a comic book writer/alien expert. Then they hit the road for real, taking an RV trip to some of the most famous 'alien' sites of the Southwest. But as they head out to Area 51, they witness a car crash and, like the good RV'ers/nice guys that they are, they stop to lend assistance. What they don't know until it's too late is that the victim of the car accident is a real, live alien from outer space.
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in 'Paul'

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in 'Paul'

© Universal Pictures
Paul, as he calls himself, has been trapped on earth for years and has adapted to our ways. He smokes, drinks, cusses, and has a wicked sense of humor. He also looks like the stereotypical alien, the sort of creature kids draw when asked to come up with a guy from space. He's on the run from the government after his use to them has run its course (all that's left is the dissection of his brain, and Paul wasn't about to hang around to see how that invasive surgery would turn out). Instead of sticking around and becoming a government science experiment, Paul wants to head back home. And although Graeme and Clive are into aliens, they didn't expect to actually encounter a wise-cracking, pot-smoking being from another planet who jokes about anal probes and can become invisible whenever he wants to. Still, Graeme and Clive are genuinely good people and they can't just turn their backs on Paul. Their road-trip quickly transitions into a desperate race to get Paul back to his planet before Agent Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman) and his minions, Agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), can catch up with them and retrieve the escaped alien.

The Acting

Paul is packed with cameos and supporting players who seem to be engaged in a contest to outdo each other during their limited screen time. Sigourney Weaver puts in a brief appearance as Mr Big and shares a scene with Blythe Danner which features one of Weaver's signature lines from Aliens, a line that earns huge laughs in Paul. Jane Lynch comes and goes far too quickly in her brief appearance as the owner of a touristy gift shop/restaurant that caters to alien-loving geeks. Jeffrey Tambor plays against type well, playing a total jerk who's irritated by Graeme and Clive's presence at his booth at ComicCon.

In larger supporting roles, Jason Bateman has to keep a straight face throughout the film and therefore doesn't really get to stretch much - but he does get to show off a few action skills. Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are super as two rookie agents who slowly catch on to the fact they're chasing a real alien. However, the scene-stealing supporting player in Paul is Kristen Wiig. I'm not sold on the love story between Wiig and Pegg's characters, but Wiig is hilarious as a fundamentalist Christian who has her values challenged by a philosophical alien whose knowledge of the creation of our planet rocks her world. Wiig's delivery is perfect and watching her character evolve from a close-minded, small-town woman who has lived a G-rated life into a woman who is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes in order to get Paul back to his home planet is one of the best things about the film.

Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig, Nick Frost, and Paul the alien in 'Paul'

Simon Pegg, Kristen Wiig, Nick Frost, and Paul the alien in 'Paul'

© Universal Pictures

But this is Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's film and they carry the load - and have to act opposite a CGI alien (voiced by Seth Rogen). Pegg and Frost can always be depended on to bring a lovable quality to their characters, and they wear their own geekiness as a badge of honor while playing Graeme and Clive. Paul marks the first film they've co-written and it's the first of their films that elevates Frost from being the goofy sidekick to an equal with Pegg's character. The new twist in that onscreen relationship works to Frost's benefit.

The Bottom Line

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's love affair with Steven Spielberg's films is evident, and their ability to finesse in pop culture references without pulling our attention away from the film is simply brilliant. And if you don't catch on to everything they're referencing, don't worry. Pegg and Frost don't expect you to get 100% of the references, and they believe it's completely fine to disregard all of them and enjoy Paul. In other words, if you can't figure out where something comes from and it flies right over your head, Pegg and Frost don't want you to feel alienated when half the audience starts laughing.

Pegg and Frost's writing is sharp, and if at times they throw in little side-stories that aren't entirely necessary (the love story), at least the dialogue and set-ups are snappy enough to make those distractions bearable. Paul is sometimes hilarious but always entertaining, even when it seems to lose its way (which it does a bit before we get to the final act). These guys love geeks, love films, and love having fun, and that's what they deliver to the audience with Paul: a fun time. Paul's a goofy comedy with heart, an wild adventure that doesn't make fun of fanboys (and fangirls) while it pokes fun at some of the staples of the sci-fi genre. Geeks and non-geeks, believers and non-believers alike will find something to smile about with Paul.

GRADE: B

Paul was directed by Greg Mottola and is rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use.

Theatrical Release: March 18, 2011

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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