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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Paul (2011)

* * *

Director: Tom Motolla
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Kristin Wiig

For those of us waiting for the third installment of the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy, a series of films from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul is a bit of a tease. It just makes you want that final film all the more. It's a bit broader and not quite as sharp as the Blood and Ice Cream films, but it's funny and engaging and will get you primed for that elusive third film.

Pegg and Frost star as Graeme and Clive, two Englishmen who travel to the States for Comic-Con and a roadtrip to sites of "extraterrestrial importance." Not long into their journey they encounter a runaway alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), who convinces them to help him escape the government agency that's after him and get to the rendez-vous point where he'll reunite with his own kind and set off for home. In addition to having to outrun the government in the form of Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman), the trio also ends up having to outrun a gun-toting Christian fundamentalist in the form of Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch), whose daughter, Ruth (Kristin Wiig), finds out about Paul and is kidnapped to keep her from exposing his existence.

As the four make their way in Graeme and Clive's RV, the plot is sustained primarily through several different interpersonal conflicts. Clive, an aspiring science fiction writer, is upset because while he was passed out (having fainted at the shock of seeing Paul), Graeme and Paul bonded, making Clive feel like a third wheel but also ruining his fantasy of what it would be like to meet and interact with an alien. Ruth and Paul get off to a bad start because his existence calls her faith into question (a problem quickly dispatched with when Paul shares his knowledge of the universe with her). Ruth and Graeme, meanwhile, are falling in something that might become love, although at the moment Ruth is too obsessed with her newfound love of sinning to develop anything very deep.

Being about a couple of geeks, Paul is designed with geeks in mind, though it's accessible even if you know nothing about comic books or science fiction related pop culture (although if you know nothing about either of those things you probably won't be drawn to this movie anyway). For the most part, its references are mainstream enough that they can be picked up by virtually anyone with a passing familiarity to pop culture.

As a comedy, Paul works really well. The cast is full of great comic actors - in addition to the leads, Jane Lynch and Bill Hader also appear - and Rogan is able to deliver a lively performance as Paul despite only providing the voice. It's when the film veers into darker territory that it falters a bit, particularly at the end. The life or death situation at the climax is an unnecessary and kind of transparent play for the audience's heartstrings and the revelation about Paul's "inside" man feels a bit slapped together. Still, what works about Paul works really well. It's a very funny movie, although not really on par with the Pegg/Frost/Wright collaborations, and the perfect antidote to the lacklustre final days of the summer movie season.

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