A long time ago, in a comic book convention far, far away…after attending the San Diego Comic Con, two British sci-fi fans, Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) tour the southwest American landscape in a rented RV following a trail of alien-encounter hot spots: Black Mailbox, Area 51, Roswell. Along the way they encounter an actual alien named Paul (Seth Rogan) who is on the run from the men in black – Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), Agent Haggard (Bill Hader) and Agent O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio). Paul convinces Graeme and Clive to help him escape by driving him north to a secret rendezvous ride home. To get there, they must outrace the feds, an over-protective religious zealot, a pair of hillbilly truckers and “The Big Guy” hellbent on recapturing the escaping extra-terrestrial in order to suck his brain dry.
The acting team behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (Pegg and Frost) team up with the creative team behind Arrested Development, Superbad and Adventureland (Greg Mottola) along with Seth Rogen to create a modern comedy classic. Paul is hilarious – a geektastic, nerderiffic, sensational satire filled with clever references to Star Wars, Aliens and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a funny, touching story about friendship. After a wobbly start, the film settles into a gag-a-minute groove with the second act and doesn’t let up. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, a witty script and a great cast, Paul entertains: it’s a buddy movie; it’s a road picture; it’s a sci-fi chase comedy.
Seth Rogan is the voice of Paul, the alien on the run continuing his string of successful animated characters such as B.O.B. in Monsters vs. Aliens and Mantis in Kung Fu Panda. With Paul, he gets to step into the animated spotlight injecting a little more of his Pineapple Express personality he’s famous for than ever allowed to before. The combination of caring alien, pothead and slacker is touching, raunchy and hilarious. Paul is a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, prankster with a heart of gold and Seth Rogan is the perfect person to bring that character to life – a match made in heaven. He also makes a fantastic third to Pegg and Frost. His scenes with each of their characters alone in the RV are unusually downbeat and poignant creating a very interesting dynamic between the trio. When he plays opposite Kristine Wiig, however, the character excels being caring, antagonistic and biting all at once. Rogan’s vocal timing is spot on and he gets to deliver some of the best lines in the movie. Paul is a memorable character based on a familiar extraterrestrial visuals mixed with modern comedic wit and twists leaving the audience wanting more.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s characters, Greame and Clive, who are life-long buddies sharing a mutual love of comic books and science fiction. While, individually, these characters are not a successful as Shaun and Ed from Shaun of the Dead, together they’re a stronger pair mostly due to Nick Frost’s understated performance as Clive. Frost gets the opportunity to truly co-star this time around and he’s all the better for it. As Graeme, Simon Pegg is so unlike his other roles, it’s a bit off-putting at first. The character lacks the confidence and charisma found in his other roles. However, along the way, Pegg’s Graeme discovers his inner Shaun in his own unique way. This allows him to grow into an endearing and engaging character. The relationship between Greame and Clive is genuine and sincere. Their encounter with Paul serves only to strengthen their bond and that’s a good thing. They are a modern version of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s characters from the successful string of road pictures with Paul serving as their Dorothy Lamour. What’s unusual about their performance in Paul is that they play straight man to every other actor in the film, from Seth Rogen’s Paul to the fabulous Kristen Wiig to the outrageous Bill Hader to the great Sigourney Weaver. In many ways, the supporting cast, especially Wiig, is allowed to outshine the stars.
Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig top-line the supporting cast that truly propel the humor above simply amusing into stratospheric zaniness. Bateman brings his best deadpan coolness to the role of Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil. There’s obviously more to him behind those Foster Grants and he’s great fun to watch. Wiig all but steals the entire movie as Ruth Buggs, whose deep religious faith is shattered when Paul mind-melds with her giving her a glimpse at Darwinian evolution. Afterwards, she is a changed woman, ready to explore the lower end of the English language spouting out bizarre and outrageous obscenities, and wanting to fornicate as much as possible. Between her creative combinations of delirious profanities and her blind naivety toward her new world, her role elevates the humor from satire to fantastical farce in all the right ways. The rest of the supporting cast are brilliant as well and each character is allowed their own moment to shine. Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are side-splitting funny and John Carroll Lynch as Ruth’s father Moses Buggs is sensational. Sigourney Weaver and Blythe Danner bring some class to the show and pile on even more laughs. Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Steven Spielberg are along for the ride with comedic cameo roles.
The script by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is the film’s strength and it’s weakness. It is so heavily steeped in its geek, nerdy origins that it may alienate “normal” audiences; however, it is also so clever with its killer dialog that it will have the audience rolling in the aisle regardless. It plays comfortably within the confines of its own making and never bothers to stretch beyond those walls. In some ways, it plays it safe. In other way, it allows itself to focus on what works making the laughs that much louder. Somewhere along the way, it sneaks in some emotional notes as well and creates charming and endearing relationships between many of the characters: Graeme and Clive; Graeme, Clive and Paul; Graeme and Ruth; Paul and his nemeses Agent Zoil. They’re sneaky, Pegg and Frost, building these relationships as the base of the story allowing the humor and satire to grow out of the characters and their behaviors.
Paul is a delight with a heart of gold and a sardonic, satiric funny bone. The movie succeeds on the shoulders of its charismatic and talented cast and its sharp, witty script. It delivers. Rogen’s Paul can easily sit along side Spielberg’s E.T. or the aliens in Men in Black or My Favorite Martian and would easily be the alien to hang out with – he’s cooler, he’s funnier, he’s more devious. Pegg and Frost have created a pair of offbeat dorks that rival classic characters from comedy teams like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and Hope and Crosby. Kristin Wiig nearly steals the spotlight with her enthusiastic, foul-mouthed performance. With a drinking game waiting to be discovered, Paul pokes fun at the genre movies that inspired it in almost ever scene, referencing settings, borrowing locales and sending up memorable lines and characters. For the nerd in everyone, Paul will make you smile and laugh…and maybe tear up, just a little.