Simon Pegg and Nick Frost continue to fly their geek flags high with Paul, an alien comedy that is essentially a love letter to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad), Paul isn't a laugh riot, but it has enough laughs to keep it moving forward—and it has a big, sloppy, sentimental heart.
After attending their first Comic-Con in San Diego, British geeks Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost) plan to visit some high-profile American UFO sites, like Roswell and Area 51. While driving through the desert at night in their rented RV, they witness a car accident. From the wreckage, a big-eyed alien named Paul emerges, smoking a cigarette and sporting cargo shorts. He hitches a ride with the boys, and their road movie begins.
Paul is voiced by Seth Rogen (which means he's a pot-smoker), and he's been on the planet for more than 50 years. His appearance (big head, huge eyes) is rather stereotypical for an alien. This is because the government has been leaking images of him to prepare civilization for the possibility of visits from Paul's friends; this way, we won't be so shocked when they show up on our porches with their big heads and their anal probes.
On their way to Paul's original landing site (a familiar movie landmark), the boys pick up another passenger in the form of Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a one-eyed fundamentalist Christian running an RV park with her crazy dad (John Carroll Lynch). This gives Wiig her funniest movie role yet, as a woman freed from the prison of her home and religion. She soon takes up cursing, and she is quite good at it.
The geek references are bountiful, including many to Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, Star Trek, etc. Spielberg even makes a memorable voice cameo, getting useful advice from Paul on a movie Spielberg was making back in the early '80s. It's a great cameo, right up there with Michael Jackson's appearance in Men in Black 2.
Rogen, who is no stranger to voiceover work (I loved him as B.O.B. in Monsters vs. Aliens), makes the CGI Paul a memorable and even lovable creation. He utilizes a nice, laid-back tone, and his work blends in nicely with the live actors. There are times when I forgot I was listening to Rogen, which is probably the biggest compliment I could pay him.
Pegg and Frost, who wrote the film, are overshadowed a bit by Paul, who is much funnier than they are. Their pairing this time out doesn't have the usual hilarious zip of their previous work (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), but that's OK. They make Graeme and Clive believable and likable as friends, even if the laugh factor dips a bit when they are talking.
Jason Bateman is top-notch as a mysterious agent tracking Paul; so are the awesome Bill Hader and the always-funny Joe Lo Truglio as his underlings. Blythe Danner is terrific as a character who shall remain a mystery in this review, and Sigourney Weaver's presence gives the film's ending some extra geek punch.
Paul winds up being one of the more effective and emotionally satisfying alien movies since E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. It's a good movie on its own, and all of the great references make me want to pull out Spielberg's movies and watch them all over again.
Except for Hook. I'm not watching that piece of shit anytime soon.