By Carl Kozlowski
March 18, 2011
It goes without saying that the whole world could use a laugh right about now. Thankfully, the new sci-fi comedy Paul is arriving in theaters Friday, packing more laughs per minute than almost any movie in the past decade—along with great performances, inventive twists and a sweet core of silly fun.
Written by and starring British comics Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the dynamic duo behind the brilliant cult hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul centers on two nerdy British tourists named Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg) who have come to America to visit the sci-fi nerd mecca of Comic-Con. They also decide to drive an RV across the U.S. to visit sites where alien encounters have allegedly occurred. Even they realize that they’re just being silly, and there’s no way they’ll ever encounter a real alien—until a car races around them in the dead of night before careening off the highway and exploding.
Looking for human survivors, they instead encounter a surly, wisecracking, dope-smoking alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen in one of the best voiceover performances I’ve ever heard) who’s on the run from federal secret agents (Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver) who he believes are out to kill him. Paul took his name from the dog his spaceship crushed when it crash-landed in rural Wyoming in 1947, and he’s spent the past 60-plus years being questioned at the clandestine Area 51 for his advanced alien insights and technological know-how.
Paul is just desperate to stay on the run and alive, but things keep getting more complicated as junior federal agents (Bill Hader and Thomas Lennon) get roped into the chase, and the on-the-lam trio also pick up a fundamentalist Christian named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) who’s desperate to make a getaway of her own: from her repressive life managing a desert RV park with her Bible-thumping father (John Carroll Lynch).
Paul is a wonder to behold, a smile- and laugh-inducing romp from start to finish that, even though it’s rated “R” for some profanity and a few pot-smoking scenes, has an inherently good-natured vibe. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) displays the best of his strengths from both those prior films as he weaves frenetically funny action scenes with revealing emotional moments that steer clear of sappiness.
Aside from its vast surface charms, the film’s brilliant script and perfect casting includes hilarious cameos from the likes of Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor and, in the most truly inspired gag, the voice of Steven Spielberg himself. Pay close attention and you’ll find countless sly references to other classic alien films, including the fact that Weaver is fighting an alien again in a completely different fashion than her epic turns as Ripley in the Alien series of films.
One big caveat to Christian viewers is the fact that Ruth and her father’s characters are played for laughs, as they dive right into stereotypical jokes as gun-toting creationists who believe the world is just 4,000 years old. She has never drunk alcohol, sworn, kissed a man or traveled outside her limited desert radius—all aspects that are quickly rectified as she hits the road with the gang.
Yet she’s also depicted as having an inherently sweet innocence that is respected, and at one point Paul expresses sadness that he’s shaken her faith. He also invokes Scripture respectfully when he talks her into letting him use his healing powers to cure a lifelong eye problem in one of the film’s more serious moments.
Hopefully, popular American audiences won’t be dissuaded by the fact that the film stars Pegg and Frost, who are relatively unknown here. These are two men who are long overdue for a major break here, and if audiences give this movie a shot, it could well become a word-of-mouth sensation.