If E.T. spent enough time on Earth adapting to our language and customs, he probably would have become a wisecracking rebel just like Paul, the title character in director Greg Mottola’s latest buddy comedy. This alien with attitude, voiced by the gravelly Seth Rogen, steals scenes with his caustic sarcasm, penchant for practical jokes, and his gross personal habits. Paul is neither naive nor innocent, but his maturity or lack thereof is what makes him so hilarious.
While Rogen is humorous in the film, it helps that Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost pen the screenplay for “Paul.” The two funnymen have established a formula for success, with their bromantic roles as mismatched best friends, in comedies like “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.”
“Paul” carries on this trend, with Pegg and Frost in the lead parts; however their characters Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings are nerdy pals on holiday, visiting famous U.F.O. landmarks in the U.S. On the road outside of Area 51, the pair witnesses a car crash, so they stop to check on the driver. When they approach the wreck though, they are horrified to find Paul, a real life alien standing there.
The extraterrestrial begs Graeme and Clive to take him aboard their R.V. and help him escape the clutches of the government. With little time to argue, the three take off down the road. Even though there’s a hotshot government agent (Jason Bateman) stalking them at every turn, the trio still manages to have a blast on their adventure. They share laughs, narrowly avoid danger, and make new friends like Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a woman that they unintentionally abduct.
Despite playing the lead characters, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play a less vital role in the humor of this film than they have in previous projects. They are more peripheral, letting intense personalities like Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig elicit most of the laughs.
Mottola’s “Paul” is a road film in the truest sense of the term. By surviving their hectic experience together, the characters form a tight bond of friendship and mature as individuals. Graeme and Clive gain confidence to pursue their dreams, and Paul learns the value of companionship. As a director, Mottola proves like he did with “Superbad” and “Adventureland” that he can effectively tell a comedic story with endearing themes of camaraderie and self-improvement through his subtle attention to small moments of connection between the characters.
Comic book fans and sci-fi junkies will most likely be more engaged by this film since it’s loaded with geeky references and humor. Like “Scott Pilgrim vs The World,” it feels like a movie made by nerds for a nerdy audience. As a result the average moviegoer probably will not appreciate it as much, but should still have a decent time.
My Grade: B+ (for nerds) / B (for average folks)