Thursday, April 14, 2011

Goofy, sweet "Paul" phones home with a knowing script

Paul (2011) 
104 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

Witty Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost know how to write an affectionate tribute, just like their collaborations on "Shaun of the Dead" (the zombie genre) and "Hot Fuzz" (the cop genre), even if the extraterrestrial road-movie comedy "Paul" isn't really a full-on spoof like their previous work. It's amiably goofy, sweet, and funny. In other words, "Paul" is good fun, so let your geek flag fly. 

On a trip in their RV to San Diego's Comic-Con convention and across America to stop at the UFO hotspots, best buds Clive and Graeme (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg), a sci-fi comic book writer and his BFF illustrator of a three-boobed alien babe. Then these man-boy geeks—like a dream come true—have a close encounter with a little green guy in shorts and flip-flops named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who owes a thing or two to Spielberg's whole career and craves Reese's Pieces. Paul is trying to get back to his mothership, so Graeme and Clive decide to help him. Then they “kidnap” a Christian trailer-park worker, Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), and they all go on the lam from rednecks, Ruth's crazy father, a man in black (Jason Bateman), and two nimrod FBI agents (Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio). 

Assuming the role of director for Edgar Wright, Greg Mottola has an easy-going, shambling pace that gets faster as it goes along. Pegg and Frost's dry British humor is a comfortable match with Mottola's "Superbad"-ish bromance and all the meta sci-fi pop references cutely phone home to Star Trek, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T.," "Aliens," and The X-Files, but they never feel wedged in. And any jokes with curious mention to the "Capturing the Friedmans" doc and "Lorenzo's Oil" are fresh in our book. 

The CGI creation of Paul is seamlessly rendered, and Rogen conveys the slacker, jokey rudeness that he's come to engineer. A lovably dorky Wiig, as a cyclops-eyed, Christian fundamentalist shut-in from the world, makes her discovery of a wider world endearing and priceless, as she tries timing her cuss words. Blythe Danner also provides some warmth and surprising stoner humor as the farm woman whose dog Paul was crushed by a UFO when she was just a girl. Jane Lynch plays a daffy, gum-chewing waitress in one scene and the closing credits. And Sigourney Weaver has an amusing walk-on cameo as a government baddie known as The Big Guy, who knows a thing about aliens (wink wink). 

If some of the jokes go over your head like a flying saucer, you're either living under a rock or you're no movie fanboy—"Paul's" demographic—because even a Mars head like Paul is cultured. 

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