Published Mar 18, 2011Hey, geeks, this one's for you. Comic book and mainstream sci-fi geeks mostly, mind you, but Paul is by no means too esoteric in its lore to alienate casual viewers in search of simple filthy chuckles. However, it is packed with sly references easy to overlook if, for example, one doesn't recognize a honky-tonk arrangement of the song playing in that fucked up bar in Tatooine from Star Wars.
Structurally, Paul is a simple road-trip, buddy comedy. Commencing with a crash landing back in the '50s, we're quickly brought to modern day where we meet Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead), two British sci-fi geeks hitting the San Diego Comic Con to kick off a tour of alien hotspots in America.
After some pretty typical nerd jokes and a hilarious appearance by Jeffrey Tambour (Arrested Development) as superstar author Adam Shadowchild, the lads are on the road and the gay jokes start as soon as they hit a local bar. Jane Lynch swoops in to distract from the over-obvious birth of the running gag as zany big-haired waitress Pat Stevens.
Luckily, all this occurred very early in the film and my growing concerns were squashed the instant Paul entered the picture. Seth Rogan, the animation team and writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost did one hell of a job creating a CGI character that's integrated seamlessly with the environment, carrying the film on his tiny shoulders through sheer force of personality and presence. Very purposefully a classic Grey design ― everything in Paul is built to facilitate jokes ― Paul is foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, often immature, but rarely stupid. For all of his very human qualities, he's still an alien, and the filmmakers relish the opportunity to confound certain expectations so often that you'll actually be questioning the film's outcome.
There's a sense of genuine danger in Paul ― things and characters are killed ― and it's often hysterical. For every predictable set up (a romantic sub-plot and resultant buddy tension) there's an unpredictable counterbalance, like Kristen Wiig (possibly the funniest woman in cinema) playing a religious zealot who has her faith shaken and decides to learn how to curse. Some of the wild shit she spouts would make a sailor blush. Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, playing it colder than I would've imagined possible) leads a team of Men In Black made up of Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio (frequent support players from the Apatow stable). They're one half of a double-pronged chase propelling the story.
Paul is AWOL from a government facility and the geek-namic duo has to help him get to a rendezvous site (another great visual gag). Through a comedy of errors, Wiig's Ruth Buggs gets caught up in the mess and her devout father (played by the great John Carroll Lynch, Zodiac) joins the hunt.
If you're easily offended by the notion that Creationism is a load of hokum, Paul will piss you off. If you're at peace with science, you're more likely to piss yourself laughing. Kudos to Greg Mottola (Superbad) for upping his game to deliver his most stylistically accomplished and funniest film yet.
It's not quite at the level of Frost and Pegg's previous high-water marks (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), but Paul is a fresh, entertaining comedy that handily balances expectations and irreverence. (Universal)