Review of Paul

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star in this 2011 sci-fi comedy flick. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are best pals from England who go on holiday to the US. They begin at San Diego's Comic-Con, then set out in an RV to visit places associated with UFOs. Along the way, they are joined by an extraterrestrial who calls himself Paul (computer-generated, but voiced by Seth Rogen). They also pick up a Christian zealot named Ruth (Kristen Wiig). But US government agents are pursuing Paul, while Ruth's gun-toting father is coming after her. Paul has lots of references to sci-fi films and comic-book characters.
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Movie Review: "Paul"

-- Rating: R for language including sexual references and some drug use
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: March 18, 2011
Directed by: Greg Mottola
Genre: Science Fiction/Comedy

"Paul" is a British-American film written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, who also star in the movie. The director is Greg Mottola, who directed American comedies "Adventureland" and "Superbad." The title character Paul is created by CGI and Paul's voice is provided by Seth Rogen.

Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) and Graeme Wily (Simon Pegg) are British comic book fans who are attending the San Diego Comic-Con International, an annual comic book convention. They also visit important UFO sites in their RV while they are in the United States. A car passes Clive and Graeme as they are traveling along a highway at night and their vehicle crashes. They stop to investigate and discover the car contains an injured alien named Paul. Although the pair is initially shocked by Paul's appearance, they agree to help him.

Secret Service agent Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman) is tracking Paul and discovers his crashed car. He contacts his superior, known only as the Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver), who advises Lorenzo to use local law enforcement in tracking Paul down. The Big Guy also recruits agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) to assist Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, Clive, Graeme, and Paul arrive at an RV park operated by Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig) and her father Moses (John Carroll Lynch). While there, Paul tells Clive and Graeme that he has been advising the government on scientific issues after he was captured and imprisoned in Area 51. He has already told everything he knows, so the government has been planning to remove his brain to discover the source of his special abilities such as healing and invisibility. Paul contacted his home planet and escaped from Area 51 to rendezvous with a rescue ship when he crashed the car.

Clive, Graeme, and Paul kidnap Ruth when Paul reveals himself to her, and the foursome attempt to find Paul's rescue ship while being pursued by Lorenzo, Haggard, and O'Reilly. The Big Guy calls for military support, and everyone arrives at the rendezvous point for a showdown. The alien rescue ship lands on the Big Guy and Paul bids his friends farewell as he leaves in the ship.

The profanity-laced wisecracking alien in "Paul" will remind audiences of the lead character in the 1986 science fiction comedy "Howard the Duck." This film's R rating also allows Paul to use the make frequent references to his sexual equipment. The incongruity of Paul's alien appearance and Seth Green's laidback voice is a major reason for the effectiveness of the comedy in this film. The CGI for creating Paul is very well done and supports the character's role as the true star of the film. Green excels at mixing nonstop rudeness with a touch of warmth when voicing Paul.

The culture of the science fiction geek is a major source of the humor in "Paul," and it also spoofs science fiction films. Director Steven Spielberg's films in particular are a frequent target, especially "E.T. the Extraterrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." One of the early scenes shows Paul explaining his effect on American culture by saying he has spoken with Steven Spielberg many times over the telephone. The black suits and sunglass worn by the Secret Service agents pursuing Paul provide an obvious reference to the "Men in Black" series of science fiction comedies. The voice of Sigourney Weaver, who is unseen throughout most of the film, is immediately familiar to fans of science fiction films.

"Paul" is the third and funniest film starring Pegg and Frost, with the other two being "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz." All three films are sharp satires of capitalist society and English culture, although "Paul" uses crude strokes to achieve additional agendas such as separating the mysticism of Spielberg's films from the culture of extraterrestrials.

The film also uses the character of Ruth to spoof anti-Darwinism. Ruth is an ardent Christian fundamentalist who believes in creationism. Paul uses telepathy to convince her of evolution and the nonexistence of God. Once she has been so enlightened, Ruth begins uttering a stream of profanity and demanding sex.

Director Mottola uses a down-to-earth approach to set up and dismantle Spielberg's childish wonder at the universe. This is a drastic departure from the exuberant mastery of pop culture of Edgar Wright, who usually directs Pegg and Frost's films. Wright was unavailable for "Paul" since he was already committed directing the comedy spoof "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars