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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look60%
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5 reviews, 10 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"E.T. Phone Rewrite!"
4 stars

Watching “Paul” is a lot like spending two hours in the company of a group of stone-cold movie geeks who delight in trying to outdo each other by relentlessly coming up with the most obscure film references possible. This can be fun, especially if you happen to be on their wavelength and are able to pick up on said references, but it can get a little exhausting after a while and when it is all over, you don’t have much of anything of substance to take away from the experience. Likewise, “Paul” is likable and amusing enough but it is so busy trying to impress viewers with one obscure reference and in-joke after another--there are times when it feels like a big-screen adaptation of IMDB--that it never quite gets around to doing much of anything else. Under normal circumstances, this would be more than enough for a movie comedy these days, especially in comparison to such weak comedic sauce of late as “Just Go With It” and “Hall Pass,” but when you consider all the talented people involved with this particular project, the fact that it never quite makes it to the next level is a bit of a disappointment.

The film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Graeme and Clive, a pair of British sci-fi geeks who have come to America to experience first-hand the majesty and mystery of the annual San Diego-based nerdapalooza known as Comic-Con. Afterwards, they rent an enormous motor home and set off on a pilgrimage to visit locations that are famous for alleged UFO sightings. While driving down a lonely desert road outside of Area 51 in the middle of the night, a car comes barreling wildly before crashing and when the two get out to investigate, they are amazed to discover that the driver is a genuine, bona-fide alien going by the name of Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Paul explains that he crash-landed on Earth 60 years ago and has been a guest of the U.S. government ever since where he has been sharing information and influencing popular culture ever since. With his usefulness at an end and dissection on the horizon, he is now on the run and needs help to get to the location where his fellow aliens will be arriving to pick him up. Graeme and Clive agree to help him and, along with Ruth (Kristen Wiig), an overly pious young woman that they kinda, sorta kidnap after she inadvertently stumbles upon their secret, they set off on a road trip to the rendezvous point while being pursued by a trio of government agents--the straightforward Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and goofballs Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio)--and Ruth’s shotgun-wielding daddy (John Carroll Lynch).

Pegg and Frost, you will recall, appeared together previously in two of the funniest comedies of recent years, the zombie spoof “Shaun of the Dead” and the cop movie parody “Hot Fuzz,” as well as the equally impressive British television series “Spaced.” Like those earlier efforts, “Paul” is crammed to bursting with in-jokes and references to more movies than you could possibly count on a single viewing--some of them are obvious (it feels as if every Steven Spielberg movie outside of “Hook” and “Munich” get a shout-out), some of them are expectedly arcane (in a movie like this, it would almost seem like a cheat if it didn’t make a joke about “Mac & Me,” the notorious 1988 “E.T.” rip-off involving an alien who comes to Earth and discovers the healing powers of McDonalds and Coca-Cola), some are really arcane (I must admit that when I sat down to watch the film, one of the last things I was expecting to see was a riff on “Capturing the Friedmans”) and some are things that I am not exactly certain were meant to be jokes in the first place (considering that there are a couple of references to “Easy Rider,” could the notion of the guys driving across America in a ridiculously oversized motor home be a tribute to “Lost in America”?) Although not every joke comes off--a shout-out to the most famous line of dialogue from “Aliens” spends so much time setting itself up that by the time it finally goes off, it fizzles because everyone in the audience has already mentally delivered it themselves and a final revelation about Agent Zoil is so silly and goes to such ridiculous lengths for what is essentially a dumb pun that you almost want to slap the projectionist for having the temerity to show it--it does contain a lot of genuine laughs, especially if you have a working knowledge of the fantasy films produced in the Eighties by Spielberg and his legion of followers and imitators.

The problem with “Paul” is that it is basically one joke after another and nothing more. This may sound like a silly criticism to make about a comedy but I am serious. See, one of the things that made “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” so inspired was the fact that both of them contained strong stories that served as a foundation for the countless references--if you took away all of the in-jokes and silliness, you would be left with films that were surprisingly solid examples of the genres they were spoofing. “Paul,” on the other hand, lacks that foundation and instead utilizes the one-joke premise of an alien who smokes, drinks, farts, swears and generally screws around (no wonder Rogen was cast in the part) as its central narrative focus. As a result, the film is nothing more than a string of gags and while many of them are pretty solid, it begins to get a little wearisome after a while and by the time it finally reaches the end, I suspect that few audience members will be clamoring for more.

The best scenes in the movie come at the beginning with our endearingly goofy heroes wandering through Comic-Con and touring alien-related tourist traps--Pegg and Frost are pretty much the closest thing we have to an actual comedy team working in the movies today and they play off of each other and their surroundings so beautifully that I wish that there had been a lot more of that. (Hell, an entire film could be made of the two of them touring the weirdness of Comic-Con.) Once they run across Paul, however, there rhythms begin to falter a bit--partly because of the inclusion of a third person and partly because of the inclusion of a third person who needs to be added in later by computer--and the blending of Rogen’s brash comedic sensibilities with their own comparatively refined approach never quite works as well as it should. As for the other players, Wiig is less annoying than she has become as of late on “Saturday Night Live,” though a running gag in which her prim-and-proper character learns to swear by trial and error is never particularly amusing. Bateman is amusing as the ridiculously straight-laced Fed and Hader and Truglio also score laughs as his underlings. There are also a couple of famous names that pop up, either in person or via speakerphone, but I will leave those for you to discover--assuming that the commercials haven’t already given them up, of course.

Don’t get me wrong--I like “Paul” and actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would based on the fairly weak first trailer that just made it seem like a dumb knockabout comedy. I just wish that Pegg and Frost had taken another pass at the screenplay and strengthened up the story instead of trying to jam in as many oblique quotes and references as it could bear. Maybe the absence of their frequent collaborator, writer-director Edgar Wright (who was off doing the abysmal “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World”), is partly to blame--it could be that they need him to balance things and keep them from succumbing to their weaknesses in the same way that Lennon needed McCartney and vice-versa. (For the record, Greg Mottola directed this one and does a solid and professional job that nevertheless lacks the personal touch that he brought to such previous efforts as “The Daytrippers,” “Adventureland” or even “Superbad,” the credit which presumably got him this gig in the first place.) The result is a film that is entertaining enough to warrant seeing but one that will pretty much fade from your memory by the time you get home from the theatre.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19655&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/17/11 23:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/08/12 Jimmy Web Literally fell asleep in theater ! 1 stars
4/03/12 David Hollingsworth Irreverent, charming, better than expected 4 stars
6/19/11 Andy very charming and funny..Love to see ET go home 3 stars
6/10/11 Steve Suprizing Funny and Good! A Flick NOT for the kiddies... 4 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles Funny 4 stars
4/10/11 Koitus It had its funny/good moments. Better than average, but not great. 4 stars
3/25/11 M. Rogers I liked it. I enjoy Simon Pegg and have watched a lot of his U.K. T.V. stuff. 4 stars
3/21/11 DK A tremendous letdown. Edgar Wright was clearly the genius, Pegg and Frost like lost lambs 2 stars
3/20/11 holly sines So funny..worth the ticket... 4 stars
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  18-Mar-2011 (R)
  DVD: 09-Aug-2011


  DVD: 09-Aug-2011

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Greg Mottola

Written by
  Nick Frost
  Simon Pegg

  Simon Pegg
  Nick Frost
  Seth Rogen
  Sigourney Weaver
  Jason Bateman
  Kristen Wiig

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