It’s probin’ time!
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, and the voice of Seth Rogen. Directed by Greg Mottola
My inner sci-fi geek is happy.
There’s something to be said about “fanboy” culture and if you’ve been keeping up with my movie reviews, or just know me, then you also know that I’m not huge on the past decade’s explosion of “fanboys/fangirls.” Yes, I grew up watching the “Buck Rogers” TV show, “Star Trek” Sunday mornings, “Quantum Leap,” “The X-Files,” “Babylon 5,” “The Greatest American Hero,” “Automan,” “Otherworld,” “Hard Time on Planet Earth,” and old episodes of the “Twilight Zone” (as well as the 80’s version). I remember clearing off whatever I was doing on a Saturday night just to watch “Star Wars” on TV. I saw “E.T.” at a drive-in and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is in my Top Ten films of all time. But sometimes… I just have to draw the line. Too much can be too much. But yes, my name is Chas and I’m a sci-fi geek.
Ahem. It’s with this loving sincerity of “worship” that the movie “Paul” is based. Co-written by co-stars and best friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (known for their previous buddying-up in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”) we’re plopped into the Mecca of sci-fi fantasy geekdom: Comic Con. For those of you not “in the know” Comic Con is a yearly convention held in San Diego that features artists, authors, filmmakers, and everyone in-between showcasing up-and-coming movies or selling paraphernalia or even just showing up dressed as Orcs, Wookies, Ewoks, Ghostbusters, Dr. Who… if you can name a franchise or character they will probably be represented here. Note: there are other sci-fi/fantasy/horror conventions across the U.S. such as DragonCon, AdventureCon, etc.
Back to the story at hand: Graeme Willy (Frost) and Clive Gollings (Pegg) are on “holiday” from England. They’ve saved up their money and splurged on a trip out to Comic Con. Graeme is a writer of sorts having been nominated for a Hugo Award back in 1992 for one of his short stories. Pal Clive is an illustrator. After having some fun and meeting sci-fi writer Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor) they embark on their roadtrip across the States to their “hotspots”: the “black mailbox,” Area 51, and the infamous Roswell crash site. It’s a path whose stops are for those wanting to believe; those who know that “the truth is out there.”
Late one night after leaving the Little A’Le’Inn (yes, it exists) they witness a car accidentally run off the road. Upon inspecting the car for damages and/or survivors from the accident they meet backpacking alien Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). And their world flips upside down…
Paul challenges every notion that the two ever grew up with in regard to extraterrestrial life. He’s rude, crude, and obnoxious. He curses and smokes. His story goes like this: he crash-landed his ship about 70 years ago on the property of a farmhouse killing a dog and inheriting the name. From there he was whisked away by the U.S. government where they “picked his brain” about the mysteries of the universe while keeping him trapped inside. The government has used him as their “basis” for “green aliens” with their oblong heads, big eyes, and small mouths. Now, he’s trying to get back home.
The “Brit Nerds” take up Paul’s cause and re-route their trip to help him get home because, hey, what would you do if you met an extraterrestrial who needed your help? Along the way they pick up one-eyed fundamentalist Christian Ruth Boggs (Kristen Wiig) who is attracted to Clive but so steadfast in her beliefs it’s almost unbearable to listen to her argue with Paul until he “transfers” his knowledge to her. Afterward she starts cussing in obtuse sentences due to her repression. It has its funnier moments.
But the joyride isn’t without other complications. First off there is Special Agent Zoil (Bateman) who is on a shoot-to-kill mission from the Big Guy to find Paul. He’s being “assisted” by agents Haggard (Hader) and O’Reilly (Truglio) who have no clue as to who they are chasing and why but slowly they put it together. Also in the mix is Ruth’s dad Moses Boggs (John Carroll Lynch, “The Drew Carey Show”) who thinks that a “demon” has taken off with his young daughter as well as two rednecks (David Koechner and Jesse Plemons) trying to get retribution for the fact that the Brit nerds more than dented their truck. What ensues is a roadtrip movie that, while uneven, pays homage to just about every “close encounter” you can think of.
As I said earlier – my inner sci-fi geek tripped out on this movie. I can’t remember the last time that anyone so successfully spoofed or sent-up sci-fi movies without that “breaking the fourth wall” moment where the actor looks at the camera, winks, then plods forward. “Paul” is rooted in its world and never once suggests that the joke is on you. Actually, it suggests that many jokes are on all of us but that’s beside the point. The characters in the movie make it believable (for the most part) and hey, you’d spend a day hanging out with Clive and Graeme just to hang out with them. And maybe Paul too.
I was going to list every movie reference that I caught in this but to do so would destroy any reason for you to watch the film. There’s an alright story here but the backbone if its structure happens to be the very films it refers back to. Of note it heavily leans on “E.T.” and “Close Encounters…” but that’s not a bad thing. The references in this movie range from subtle to blatantly overt and everything in the middle but again, that’s half the fun of it.
If I have a complaint about this movie it’s that it comes off being smarmy. Yes, we’d hang out with Graeme and Clive just to talk about sci-fi stuff. Yes, we know they’re on a mission to “do the right thing” and let Paul go home. Yes, all the bad stuff happening is happenstance. While not all threats are imminent there is action happening most of the time but still that “feel good” feeling pervades the movie. Some critics say that it’s something short of being great and while that does ring true I have no clue as to what could be added or subtracted from the film to make it GREAT. I hate to say removing course language because sometimes it WORKS but the appeal could’ve been broadened more. Maybe Graeme and Clive are too sci-fi “Dude” for the film to have any more gravitas than it does. That’s not a bad thing necessarily because sci-fi probably needs a few more “Dudes.” The Geek Dudes Abide…
If you are one of those who grew up on the science fiction and fantasy films of the Seventies forward this is your movie. If your cinematic diet consists of “E.T.,” “Close Encounters…” “The X-Files,” and “Alien,” this is your film. If none of these apply you just might want to skip it.
NOTE: Watch for Blythe Danner (“X-Files: Fight the Future”) as the woman who, as a young girl, pulled Paul from the wreckage of his spaceship as well as Sigourney Weaver still bent on eliminating aliens. Oh yeah, and even Mr. “E.T.” and “Close Encounters…” himself, Steven Spielberg, is in this (at least his voice).
My grade: B