Paul (2011)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on April 2, 2011 @

Paul is E.T.'s crude twin.

Paul smokes, jokes, and pokes. He's the antithesis of naivete.

Paul has a terrific concept -- an affectionate send-up of the sci-fi genre. Paul has it ups, but it also has unfortunate downs. Instead of going to the moon, it goes to Wyoming.

Paul is the tale of two British fanboys -- Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) who visit Comic-Con in San Diego, and then embark in an RV on a roadtrip to Sci-fi cult locales in Nevada and onward.

On their wayward journey they encounter Paul (nicely voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien who is fleeing from deadly government agents.

Paul crashed his spacecraft in 1947 in Wyoming, and for more than 60 years he has been incarcerated and studied by government authorities. But now he has served his purpose, so to save himself he has escaped and is running for his life.

The intrepid trio meet a young woman (Kristen Wiig) who joins them on their quest. On the way, Paul liberates her from religious dogma that has controlled her.

But various forces of control are hot on their trail.

Paul offers its makers an opportunity for some sharp satire, using British eyes to see the absurdities of American culture. But instead Paul just trots out the usual targets -- rednecks, a Bible-thumper, a black helicopter, and gun-happy lawmen. And the "humor" has hoary jokes about gays and anal probes.

One of the best elements of Paul is its clever allusions. Steven Spielberg's fingerprints are all over Paul. Paul helps SS on E.T. And on a marquee at a movie theater are the titles Easy Rider and Duel -- a Spielberg film.

A clever allusion to Spielberg is the Five Tone Fireworks, which is a smart reference to the five tones in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Unfortunately the cleverness doesn't make it to much of the dialogue. Because you're portraying dumbness doesn't mean you have to be dumb yourself, but the dialogue -- especially the vulgarity -- is unendingly dumb.

I can take Kristen Wiig cursing mindlessly. I can even take Jason Bateman uttering dumb curses. But I draw the line at Sigourney Weaver having to blab brainless curses.

The problem is not the cursing, it is that the cursing is so drab. It's lazy. Once again a script is lost in space. Screenplays don't matter. Just open Dictionary for Dummies to the f page and stay there. But there is no k in fun.

Cursing can be creative and funny, e.g., Lewis Black. But in Paul, as in most movies, the cursing plods into inanity and dull repetition.

Paul seems to severely miss the talents of Edgar Wright. Wright directed the terrific British comedies Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). Both were cowritten by Wright with Simon Pegg, and starred the engaging duo of Pegg and Nick Frost.

In Paul, Pegg and Frost are back as actors, and Frost has been promoted to a writing credit with Pegg, but Frost is no Wright.

Director Greg Mottola is no Wright either.

Paul is an American movie, so the British bite is missing. It gums its dialogue.

Paul is intermittently amusing and engaging. Simon Pegg's boyish charm matches well with Frost's lumbering hesitancy.

But, on earth as in his native planet, ultimately Paul is pretty toothless.

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