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'Paul': 'E.T.' it is not

FILM REVIEW

March 21, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, Paul the alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) left, and Simon Pegg are shown in a scene from the film, "Paul."
Associated Press/Universal Pictures

You know that move you do with your hand when you're unimpressed with something?  The one where you stick your palm down, you either lay it flat or cup it slightly, and you tilt it from side to side? Perhaps no film has ever made me want to do that move more than "Paul."

  When the film ended, I did that move from my seat. Nobody saw me do it, but I didn't do it to be seen or validated. I did the move simply because "Paul" deserved it.

The film stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, best known for the British comedies "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz."  The other main character is Paul, an alien voiced by Seth Rogen.

I knew going in that Pegg and Frost would have excellent chemistry, but I was pleasantly surprised with how seamlessly Paul fit in. He's animated well enough for you to forget that he's animated at all, and there's no awkwardness in his dialogue with humans. Not bad considering that Rogen probably recorded his lines months removed from production.  

The ensemble includes Jane Lynch (who managed to win an Emmy for "Glee" with hardly any singing), Jason Bateman (star of one of my favorites, "Arrested Development"), Sigourney Weaver (this is an alien movie, she's in her element), Joe Lo Truglio (not a name I'm familiar with, but clearly just as funny as anyone else in the cast), Kristen Wiig (the outstanding female member of the current "Saturday Night Live" cast), and Bill Hader (also on "SNL" and maybe the coolest celebrity I've ever met).  

The director is Greg Mottola, whose "Superbad" was arguably the best of the Judd Apatow-fuelled Golden Streak of R-rated Comedy from last decade. There is no doubt that all the elements of a great comedy are in place.  

The plot involves two sci-fi geeks (Pegg and Frost) who encounter Paul as they travel across the country in a Winnebago. Paul is a fugitive from the government and he needs their help to get to a ship that is coming for him

The nerds recognize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the three embark on a road trip. The trio is pursued by a shady government agent (Bateman) who is shadowed by two bumbling rookies (Hader and Lo Truglio).  

Along the way they kidnap the Christian manager of an RV lot (Wiig)  who eventually falls for one of the geeks. Everyone's world is turned upside down as Paul tries to go back to his world and make things right.  

The film is directed competently, all the scenes are staged right, and the visual effects are better than expected for a lowbrow comedy.  The actors do a good job, too. They get the maximum laughs from their lines, especially when they're swearing.  The film will be remembered best for its unique combinations of obscenities. Wiig gets the best of the diatribes because her character embraces swearing midway through the film. She's the MVP of "Paul."

One problem I definitely have with the film is the way it mocks Christianity. It's bad enough that the film portrays Christian characters as stupid, but then Christian stupidity is treated as self-evident.

Late in the film, someone says "God be with you." The other characters don't even bother mocking him, the line is treated as a joke in and of itself. Like most of the film, it isn't funny.  

There are some things that "Paul" could have done better. It could have avoided the insults toward Christians, it could have used its talented comedic actors for more than straight roles, it could have laid off the road movie clichés, predictable nerd stereotypes, and tired Seth Rogen pot jokes.

But what makes "Paul" truly mediocre is that its humor just falls flat. Some of the jokes may be well-constructed, but when the movie was over I realized that I hadn't laughed once.   

Two stars out of five.

"Paul" is rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug references.  Its running time is 105 minutes.  

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