Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Paul


Paul, written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, directed by Greg Mottola, starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and Sigourney Weaver (2011): Pegg, Frost and director Gregory Wright (absent here) have previously given us British metapop confections Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. With Superbad director Greg Mottola subbing for Wright here, the action moves to America, and while things take awhile to really get going, the result is another humourous meditation on American pop culture -- in this case, centered on alien contact and invasion movies.

Pegg and Frost play an aspiring artist and science-fiction writer respectively, delighted to have taken a vacation from England to go to the mega-geeky San Diego Comicon and then onwards for a vacation touring famous science-fiction and UFO landmarks across the Southwest in a rented motorhome. Their characters are more genial and less sharp-edged than we've seen them assay before, fitting for a movie that's ultimately more genial and less sharp-edged than we've seen them do before. The whole enterprise is really quite warm-hearted -- there are villains, but almost no one gets killed. Almost.

Stopping to check out a car wreck in the desert, the two meet up with Paul, an alien who looks like a traditional Gray and talks like, well, Seth Rogen when he's being genial and funny, as opposed to Seth Rogen when he's mailing it in or Seth Rogen in a part Seth Rogen isn't really equipped to play. After much confusion and several faintings, the two agree to drive Paul to his retrieval area.

Paul's been stuck on Earth since he crashed his spaceship near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The U.S. military abducted him then, and he's since been helping both them and Hollywood out with various alien ideas (he consulted on both E.T. and The X-Files) under the mistaken impression that he's a guest of the U.S. government. However, his technological and cultural knowhow exhausted after 60+ years, Paul is now expendable -- the powers that be want to dissect him to find out how his healing and invisibility powers work. Luckily, a sympathetic government agent managed warn him of his coming vivisection; Paul escaped; the government now pursues.

The somewhat unlikely trio proceed to have adventures as they attempt to get Paul off-planet ahead of government pursuit. Along the way, they pick up a fourth party member played by Kristen Wiig -- a socially backward fundamentalist Christian creationist they have to kidnap from a trailer park lest she reveal their location and plans to the government. Luckily, Paul's telepathic powers show her that the universe is actually more than 6000 years old and that "eyes didn't just happen!", and she becomes a foul-mouthed agnostic with a driving need to lose her virginity to Pegg's character.

The whole thing's a lot of fun, especially if you've seen the TV episodes and movies Paul refers to both explicitly and in passing. There are also some nice background bits of business, some surprisingly funny stoner comedy, and maybe a few too many jokes about Paul's junk. Recommended.

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