a critiQal film review Paul (2011)

Plot: For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town - a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.

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It’s been a while since Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have teamed up (The World’s End), and we noticed we had a couple of movies of theirs to catch up on. First up: Paul. Would this otherworldly team-up between these two English buddies and Seth Rogen turn out to be a sci-fi gem? Or is Paul just more fool’s gold from Seth Rogen?

While Simon Pegg has garnered a decent solo career (Star Trek (2009), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), etc.), his movies with Nick Frost still seem kinda special. Sure, not all of them are great (Hot Fuzz (2007)), but there is something to be said for the camaraderie these two share on the big screen. Simon and Nick, obviously lifelong buddies, have a solid bro chemistry on screen, and it shows in any film they make together. With Paul the set-up itself, which has them journeying across the United States in an RV, is perfectly suited for them, and their sheer enthusiasm to be hanging out on-screen together is hard to resist.

Seth Rogen, who usually tries way too hard to be funny, seems to have gotten the hint in Paul. Maybe he’s just more relaxed in the sound studio when he’s voicing a character rather than being in front of the bright lights himself, as his animated characters seem to be a lot more appealing than his on-screen persona. While he continues to be kinda pathetic with his on-screen roles, he’s really found a niche in the animated world of film, and, since he’s getting to voice a CGI alien in this film, it really does seem to be right up his alley.

Kristen Wiig, who has always seemed to be overvalued before, is actually a welcome addition in Paul. Sure, her character probably generated a bit of hate mail, but she’s actually likeable in this film almost in spite of her obvious badly stereotyped character. She gives the trio of “guys” a female appeal, and seems to fit her part to a tee.

The rest of the cast is solidly decent as well. While Jason Bateman (who we recently saw in Game Night (2018)) doesn’t get to be his funny self – instead playing against character by portraying a straight-laced FBI agent – is still decent, if not quite as good as he could have been in a more comedic role. David Koechner and Jesse Plemons pop up briefly as dumb hillbillies, and Sigourney Weaver (mostly a voice over the radio) is solid in her role as the boss of the operation. Sure, none of their characters are much more than cardboard cutouts, but they provide a solid backdrop for Simon, Nick, Seth and Kristen. And then there’s Jane Lynch, who turns in a fun performance as a waitress for a too brief moment or two of the film.

The storyline, as expected in a comedy film like Paul, is a bit wacky. But, for this film, it just seems to work. Sure, it has it’s plausibility issues, but c’mon. We are talking about a movie where an alien escapes from the government and goes on a US road trip with 2 nerds from England. Even with that goofy idea, the film just kind of glosses over the basics, and sets the viewer up for lots of road trip comedy. And, surprisingly, that just seems to work here.

The alien himself is easily the biggest special effect in Paul, and he comes off looking extremely good. There is a bit of a hiccup when the other characters are trying to hug him, but other than that, he’s well articulated and expertly done. Viewers may have a hard time figuring out if he’s CGI or if he’s some sort of complicated animatronic…and what better praise can there be for a CGI character? You know, the old “Is it live…or is it Memorex?” line of thinking.

Sure, it’s a bit raunchy, and sure, a lot of the humor comes from the alien being crude, a running homophobic gag, and lots of alien probe jokes. But, since it’s a Seth Rogen flick, viewers are probably expecting that. Surprisingly, however, there’s more to Paul than just that lowbrow humor, and the included moments of sincerity actually feel heartfelt.

Thanks to a surprising plot twist and those endearing moments, the viewer is shocked that Paul isn’t quite as shallow as it seems to be. It’s got a bit of a heart to it, and with best buddies Simon Pegg and Nick Frost along for the ride, it’s a lot better than viewers will be expecting from a Seth Rogen film. It’s not quite as good as the best of the Pegg/Frost combo (like Shaun of the Dead (2004)), but it’s definitely worth a look.

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