Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in 2004's Shaun of the Dead. The comedy duo worked with director Edgar Wright again in Hot Fuzz and World's End, the trio's odd, smart sense of humor resonating with audiences. Pegg and Frost branched out in 2011, starring in Paul, a movie any science fiction fan will get a kick out of.
Lifelong friends with a love of science fiction, Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) have traveled from England to San Diego for Comic-Con. That's not all for the trip though, the friends renting an RV and planning a trip across the southwest, hitting all sorts of extraterrestrial spots like Area 51 and Roswell. The trip goes pretty much as planned....at first. One night driving along, the RV crashes and when they get out to investigate, Graeme and Clive are stunned at what they find. An alien is standing in front of them, and he speaks English quite clearly (and with some attitude). The alien's name? Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), and he's on the run from government agents. Paul has escaped from the facility he's been held at, and he intends to go home to his own planet. He bonds immediately with nerdy Graeme and Clive, but he needs their help. Will his two new friends help him get away and get to his spaceship?
I really do try to be honest with my reviews so here goes. When I saw the trailer for this sci-fi comedy a few years back, I thought it looked dumb. No, that's not enough. D-U-M-B. I avoided it the last couple years, finally caving and getting it on Netflix. The cast proved to be quite the motivating factor in the end! Well, as is so often the case, my complete refusal to listen to the "Don't judge a book by its cover" premise ended up being very, very wrong. I liked this movie from director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland). A lot. It was funny, surprisingly smart, and pretty sweet in the end -- with some dark, stupid humor mixed in for good measure. Yeah, the pretty deep, very talented cast helps, but there's more to it than that. With Pegg and Frost writing the script, you know you're getting a good final product.
The acting/writing duo actually came up with the idea for 'Paul' when they were filming Shaun of the Dead, and then it was just a matter of time until they could make it. The elements that worked in 'Shaun,' 'Fuzz' and 'World's' all translate here in an easy-going, natural chemistry. It never feels like Pegg and Frost are acting. This plays out like two old friends who know everything about each other -- some think they're gay, much to their surprise -- and are enjoying a vacation they've long talked about. Then throw in Rogen (who's excellent), and we've got quite the trio of characters. An alien who's been on Earth since the late 1940s, Paul is a great character. He's picked up all sorts of human touches from personal interactions to his often dirty conversations. Rogen even provided the motion capture movements for Paul, adding an oddly appropriate slacker look to the alien's actions. I loved the dynamic among the three, that chemistry providing the best laughs and carrying things throughout the 104-minute movie.
As a movie nerd, it was cool to watch this one develop. Pegg and Frost have said in countless interviews this movie was intended as a tribute of sorts to all the science fiction movies they love. It's a tribute to all those great science fiction movies from the 1970s and 1980s. By my count, I saw scenes with nods to Close Encounters, E.T. (obviously), Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, Back to the Future and probably countless others I'm forgetting. The ending especially gives a big old nod to Close Encounters and E.T., a pretty cool ending overall. Even director Steven Spielberg makes a voice cameo, Paul serving as his unofficial "technical adviser" as he makes E.T. back in the early 1980s. And in a quick but essential cameo, sci-fi icon and Alien star Sigourney Weaver makes a fun appearance late. Science fiction fans will definitely get a kick out of this one.
There's more to that pretty cool cast that's worth mentioning. Jason Bateman has some fun as Agent Zoil (a kinda-sorta Men in Black), a government agent in pursuit and trying to bring Paul back. Bateman looks to be having a lot of fun in the tough guy part and with a good twist late. He's got two bumbling, inexperienced agents working with him, played nicely by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio. Kristen Wiig puts a fun spin on the love interest, a woman who was raised highly religiously and is beginning to think she's got it all wrong. Her rookie attempts at swearing and cursing are especially good.There's also fun parts for Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch and Jesse Plemons.
If you read some reviews about 'Paul,' you'll no doubt fall into quite the religious quagmire. The script from Pegg and Frost takes some digs at religious folks, those who believe what they believe even if evidence is presented that directly counters what they believe. I lean toward the non-believers side so I wasn't offended, but it's easy to see why some resented this movie's message. The religious characters are loony, crazy, off-the-wall individuals. As well, the action gets ratcheted up to some crazy levels over the last 30 minutes, goofy and over the top but never too much. A very pleasant surprise from beginning to end. Highly recommended.
Paul (2011): ***/****