While the stars of the brilliant SHAUN OF THE DEAD teaming up with the director of SUPERBAD sounds promising, the end result is PAUL, a joyless E.T. parody that feels oddly dated. Two British nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ) travel to the San Diego Comic Con and then decide to go across country to view different UFO landing sites.
Passing through the desert, they see a terrible car crash and meet the driver: a classic ‘gray’ alien with a big head and black eyes named Paul. He’s voiced by Seth Rogen and he has just escaped his top secret government prison. Paul has to get across country to rendzevous with a rescue ship from his race. When the two Brits worry he’s going to probe them, a frustrated Paul wonders why everyone worries he’s going to do that. “How much can you learn from an ass,” he complains. With government agents chasing the alien, the RV is now on a trek to reach the pick-up site: The Devil’s Tower.
Although Paul is extremely well rendered and Seth Rogen does a game job voicing him, he’s emblematic of what’s wrong with the film: like the rest of the characters, Paul doesn’t say or do anything particularly interesting. He just sits around smoking cigarettes and bickering with other characters over religion and politics. The movie never really seems to go anywhere, despite all the frenetic onscreen action. The pacing is totally slack. Even though they are supposed to be running from a monolithic government agency, they frequently stop at RV parks and gas stations, so Paul can fight with them again and again over religion and politics
Worse, the movie keeps adding characters. We meet a girl dominated by her religious fanatic father (Kristen Wiig, who seems about 10 years too old to be playing this character the way she’s written) who comes along, a feisty old lady who harbored Paul years ago (Blythe Danner), government agents played by Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver and Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader, none of who do anything of consequence. For some reason, all of the women, Wiig, Weaver and Danner, are filmed at the most unflattering angles possible.
Coming off the sweet Superbad and impressive Adventureland, Greg Mottola seems to be at a loss for placemennt of the actors, who mostly stand around Paul. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost seem strained here. In their other onscreen team-ups, they were directed by Edgar Wright, and their dialogue scenes were interesting and well-staged. Here, they are creaky and boring.
Edgar Wright is sorely missed here–he obviously dodged a bullet and did the great Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World instead. Lacking genuine inspiration, it’s clear Pegg and Frost thought they would lard it up with sci-fi movie and TV references with weed jokes…so the end result would be Kevin Smith meets ALF and they even fail on that low level. There’s tired references to other movies, with nods to E.T., Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and many other ’70s and ’80s sci fi fantasies.
With it’s unpleasant lead alien character, unfunny human sidekicks, constant references to better films and preposterous road trip, the movie is heavily reminiscent of one ’80s film in particular, Howard The Duck. If you would prefer to see a funny sci-fi road comedy with Seth Rogen, you are urged to skip Paul and pick up Fanboys instead.