Paul | Greg Mottola, 2011
On paper, Paul is a dream movie. On one hand you have Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the stars of three of the funniest things ever captured on celluloid (“Spaced,” as well as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) writing and starring in a movie that celebrates geekdom and is a riff on some of the movies that are most cherished by these people. Then you have the director of the very funny Superbad, and the great Adventureland. Plus, you have a great supporting cast featuring Jason Bateman, the star of Arrested Development, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, the best of the current cast members of “Saturday Night Live,” and Sigourney Weaver, the actress that brought us what may be the most iconic hero in sci-fi. I mean, a movie with all of this has potential to be a great comedy, and maybe even a good movie. But sadly, it did not live to my high expectations, and while it isn’t bad, it is a perfect example of wasted potential.
Paul is the story of — and — (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) two geeks from England that are in the US making a trip that they have dreamed of for their entire lives. First they stop by the San Diego Comic Con, and then they are going to do a road trip to visit the famous places where alien encounters supposedly took place. In between two of these destinations, they witness a car accident, and while they tried to see if they could help, they find out that the person driving the car was an Alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). He asks for their help in getting to a rendezvous point where his kind is supposed rescue him. They agree, and they set out on an adventure they never thought would happen that not only involved Paul, but also the US government, red necks, and religious extremists.
For about the first two thirds of the movie, Paul is a clever ode to the geek culture and the things they revere. They take on the personalities of the authors they love, make clever references to classic sci-fi movies and television shows, and even denounce how ridiculous some of the things in sci-fi are. During this portion, like I said, the movie is clever, and most of the jokes are actually hilarious. But then things take a dive, and it doesn’t quite recover.
When Kristen Wiig’s sheltered and extreme Christian shows up, there are events that lead our heroes to sort of kidnap her. And it is at this point that the movie takes a dive in quality. It is not Wiig’s fault as she does her absolute best with her character, but in the writing and the direction. At this point it becomes a simple chase movie. That would have been fine had they been spoofing chase movies, but that is not the case. The situations that the characters are put in stop being clever and we rely too much on gross-out humor in this part. It was present during the best part of the movie, but it fit. Towards the end there is an emotional moment and things start picking up, but once again silly humor and pointless action scenes ruin things.
And then there’s the worst part of the movie: Sigourney Weaver’s appearance. Now, I do love her, but she’s just here to make the audience say “oh look, there’s Ripley, and she still has a vendetta against aliens,” as well as to give the filmmakers an excuse to use her iconic line from Aliens. The latter part makes for the most cringe worthy scene I’ve seen in a while. These things drag the movie down enough that it ends up being just a fun, merely good movie to spend a rainy afternoon watching.
But there are still good things worth talking about. Like I said, as a whole it is a good experience. It is constantly funny and clever and the cast is uniformly good. But the true reason to watch this is because of Pegg and Frost. As we have seen from their other collaborations, they have amazing chemistry and play off each other really well. Things are no different here. It’s worth seeing them act together even when things get to their lowest point. Also, Seth Rogen in really good and puts a heart in Paul that was not given to him by the writers.
Paul did not live to its potential and high expectations. The script and its third act, as well as the unimpressive direction (seriously, this could have been directed by anyone), drag it down considerably. Still, it’s fun movie that would be perfect for when you are in the mood for light fare.