Friday, June 17, 2011

The 'Paul' Review

Paul features an alien who drinks beer, smokes pot, makes dick jokes, drops his pants to moon in public and hurls expletives like his life depends on it. He is like a quirky combination of Jay and Silent Bob, only from outer space, and he is hilarious.

But regardless of its R-rated edge, Paul is a goofy, good-hearted spoof that works well as a fluffy genre parody. Director Greg Mottola (Advenureland, Superbad) and writer-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost economically fulfill the mandate of their limited goals without veering off toward the grating self-indulgence of anal probing jokes. Oh wait, they do. But what they also do is cater to geekdom and Comic Con nuts the way Kevin Smith’s films do. 

Here we have two UK science fiction nuts – an artist (Simon Pegg) and an aspiring novelist (Nick Frost) who are on a road trip to visit the famous San Diego Comic Con, and the numerous UFO-related sites around the area. Things take a turn when they stumble across an actual alien (voiced by Seth Rogen). Paul is the stereotypical gray alien, but the big twist is that he is a more tranquil version of Jeff Lebowski, complete with a laidback fratboy hipster attitude. Paul has escaped from a top secret government facility and plans to go back to his planet. Hot on his trail are two bumbling federal agents (Bill Hader, Jo Lo Truglio) and a Man in Black (Jason Bateman) who wants to deliver Paul to the Govt head honcho ‘Big Guy’ (name withheld to preserve the awesome cameo).

There are so many humorous references to Spielberg’s ET films, Star Wars and Back to the Future that Paul should really have been named ‘Close encounters of the laidback kind’. Pegg and Frost are in their element with their ginger-soda dialogue and the subtle pop-culture digs. The duo have come a long way from their cult hit ‘Spaced’ days to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ glory, and even in Paul they dole out US pop-culture jokes by transposing them to the ET settings for amusing effect. 

What works best here is the understated nature of the comedy. Paul is not just a parody of alien films and their legendarily geeky fans. There is some of that kind of humor, but Mottola wisely realizes that making fun of the fans is not particularly funny anymore, since it's been done so much. There is a scene where the alien makes fun of the grown-man geek fandom of its two leads (neither has ever had sex nor has dressed as a Klingon) – it makes way for three dozen in-joke references for sci-fi geeks.  And there is some marvelous hilarity in presenting irreverent characters like Kristen Wiig, who plays an awkward one-eyed love interest to Pegg. Seth Rogen does well, his verbal bombast and egotism are amusing. The film gets a little too serious in the third act when Paul tries to correct a mistake he made years ago, but it picks up again after the hilarious reveal of the ‘Big Guy’. 

Paul is a fun, keenly satiric film that manages to simultaneously spoof popular ET movies and replicates the very elements that have made them so prevalent. Do watch it. 

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