Saw the new Greg Mottola comedy “Paul” at a test screening in Burbank and was pleasantly surprised. As for related works to serve as a reference/barometer for this review – I thought Superbad and Adventureland were okay, thought Shaun of the Dead and Arrested Development were brilliant.
Some Spoilers ahead:
The script was solid. What easily could have been a tired rehash of stale nerd references came across honest and pure and the fact that Pegg and Frost can still pull off Star Wars nods is testimony of their genuine nerd credibility. They get it, love it and it works. The cast delivers exactly what their respective fans should expect/hope for and none of their talent is wasted/overlooked (like Ricky Gervais in “For Your Consideration”). Pegg and Frost, the contemporary Abbott and Costello, play Graeme and Clive, two die-hard nerds on holiday at Comic Con from England. Their intent is a US road trip to visit notorious UFO landmarks (Area 51, etc.). Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, two of the funniest SNL cast members of the decade, play to their strengths. Wiig plays a Christian zealot (rocking a t-shirt of Jesus shooting Darwin that says something like “evolution this”). Hader is a bumbling lawman (partnered with an even more incompetent sidekick played by Joe Lo Truglio). Jason Bateman is the agent in charge of tracking down Graeme, Clive and Paul. Who’s Paul? An escaped alien trying to get home. Paul is voiced by Seth Rogen. I know some find him annoying, but he I think he was the perfect choice for this role. Not so over the top and I think the writing really helped evade the common pitfalls I kind of expected from a “hide-the-alien” buddy comedy.
Paul crash landed in the 40’s on a small farm and is found by a little girl (who come to think of it seemed to have no parents, just a dog that is killed by the crashing ship). The alien (of course) is taken by our government and studied from then till present day. He also serves as a consultant to Spielberg in a great scene where he is explaining alien abilities over the phone to him while seated in a government warehouse VERY SIMILAR to the one from the end of Raiders. They cleverly explain that a good chunk of our pop culture sci-fi references originated from Paul (he created Fox Mulder, etc.) and that his likeness has been slowly spoon-fed to the public in case more of his kind should arrive. This smoothes the way for a lot of the inside references and explains (to Clive) why he looks like a stereotypical alien. The government has decided they’ve learned all they can from him and plan on harvesting his stem cells. Paul’s only chance at survival is escape, which he does. He’s found by Pegg and Frost and the adventure begins.
One thing I found refreshing was the open agnostic tone of the film, it didn’t compromise humor for the sake of being PC. Wiig’s character is on a Christian rant about how evolution is nonsense and Paul (hiding in a bathroom) starts debating her from behind the door. She gets so high and mighty in her stance, he can’t take it anymore. He hops out, revealing himself, saying “how do you explain me?”. The end was solid too. Possibly my favorite dispatching of an antagonist. I consider it this generation’s “E.T.”, substituting “wonderous innocence” with “edgy humor” (as to be expected nowadays). I really dug it.