Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Review: Paul

Paul ***
Directed by:
Greg Mottola
Written By: Nick Frost & Simon Pegg.
Starring: Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy), Nick Frost (Clive Gollings), Seth Rogen (Paul), Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs), Jason Bateman (Agent Zoil), Jeffrey Tambor (Adam Shadowchild), Jane Lynch (Pat Stevens), David Koechner (Gus), Jesse Plemons (Jake), Sigourney Weaver (The Big Guy), Bill Hader (Haggard), Joe Lo Truglio (O'Reilly), John Carroll Lynch (Moses Buggs), Blythe Danner (Tara Walton).

Much like the previous two films written and starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Paul works much better if you know the films that the two of them are poking loving fun of. If, like me, you’ve seen a ton of alien invasion movies, you will probably like Paul a lot more than most people. Hardly a scene goes by where they are not referencing one movie or another – sometimes blatantly, and sometimes subtlety. If Paul does not reach the heights of their previous two movies, I think it could be because this time, they are merely content to poke fun, and don’t push the movie further, like those two did. Perhaps this is because Edgar Wright has moved on, and didn’t direct this film, and so the two decided on Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) to direct. Mottola is a fine director, but he’s no Edgar Wright.

The film is about two British geeks, Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) who have travelled to America to attend Comicon in San Diego and then go on a cross country trip in a rented RV to visit all the alien hotspots – like Area 51 and the Black Mailbox (which is no longer black). One night, on a dark, lonely stretch of highway, a car whizzes past them, and then crashes into the ditch. Being good citizens, they get out to investigate and this is when they meet Paul – an alien, with the voice of Seth Rogen, who asks for their help. He is escaping from the government, and needs to head north so his people can pick him up. Although Clive is less enthusiastic about the idea than Graeme is, they agree to help Paul. Of course, it isn’t long before Federal Agents, lead by the no nonsense Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and his two bumbling underlings (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) are on their trial, trying to take Paul back to the lab.

Rogen was an inspired choice to do the voice of Paul, who of course, is not quite like the other aliens we have met in movies before. He is precisely what you would expect an alien who sounds like Seth Rogen to be – lazy and funny, spitting out pop culture references constantly (in the 60 years he has been on earth, he has helped shaped the way aliens are perceived by the public by collaborating with some big directors). I admit to being a fan of Rogen, even if his movies are hit or miss most of the time, but here, he does some great work as Paul. It doesn’t hurt that Pegg and Frost have such an easy chemistry together, and help make this an inspired comic trio – not just an alien Rogen doing his shtick. It also helps that they cast fine actors in smaller roles like Jane Lynch as a waitress with big hair, Kristen Wiig as a Jesus freak (whose has t-shirt featuring Jesus and Darwin that I would love, even if I completely disagree with it) and David Koechner and John Carroll Lynch as rednecks. Oh, and especially Jeffer Tambor, as a sci-fi writer. This is probably not a movie that is going to play well with The Tea Party, or pretty much anywhere in the rural South, but for me, it was hilarious.

The movie doesn’t really reach the greatness that was on display in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz though. It is a little too laid back, some may even say lazy, for that to happen. Those two movies skewers zombie movies and actions movie respectively, but were also something a little more – fine examples of the genres themselves, just with a wicked satiric edge. Paul is content to be simply a comedy – an oftentimes amusing and sometimes hilarious comedy, but one with no real bite. For movie fans, Paul is a fun ride, full of references to make you feel smart, and enough humor not based on pop culture references so that others will probably enjoy it as well. If it doesn’t reach the heights of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, than so be it – few comedies do anyway.

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