Paul - 4 out of 5
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the duo that starred in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, decided to shed the comedy of the British Isle and Americanize in their latest film and it comes in the form of Paul--which both stars wrote as well. Two hardcore nerds (which, without saying, I can easily relate to) just left Comic Con and are off to see all the U.F.O. hot spots in America's Southwest. While doing so, they come across a live little green (or in this case, gray) man and the two geeks suddenly find themselves helping the little guy escape the clutches of the U.S. government who, for a time, shared an alliance with but it seems his usefulness has run out.
I was quite pleased with Paul and it continues to show that the tag team of Pegg and Frost has what it takes to make a great film that is, at times, heartwarming and funny--but don't worry, when the film pulls on your heartstrings, it's quick to throw in a joke so it doesn't get too sappy. However, the film is not nearly as funny as the previous works of Pegg and Frost. Like their other films, the need to reference other geek material takes precedence over the actual placement of jokes. But this is something that plagued the two men their entire career--it's the one reason I could never get into the television show they starred on the BBC; Spaced. Just because you throw in a reference to Star Wars (or even Battlestar Galactica in this movie) doesn't mean the reference you're doing is actually something to laugh at. It just makes geeks like me go, "Ahhh...nice."
And this movie contains a lot of references. Aside from the usual stock of Star Wars, Star Trek and, since Sigourney Weaver is in the film, you had to have the famous line from Aliens, "Get away from her, you bitch!" Also, because this movie is about spacemen, you need references to Spielberg's classics Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. However, like I said, with all the geek and movie references, Frost and Pegg felt that these would take the place of jokes--and the jokes they do include are barely able to get me to register anything more than a slight chuckle. I know that sounds like I ripping the movie apart but the reality is I really enjoyed this film. Sure I didn't really laugh like a madman or really much at all but the story is entertaining enough that the slight chuckles the movie gave me was enough to keep me satisfied the entire run.
This fact becomes quite meaningful--especially when you consider that I am not, in any way, a Seth Rogen fan. I've never found the man to be very funny and the one character that he plays in every movie isn't entertaining enough for me to really give a shit about the actor. So, going into this film, I expected the alien, Paul (who Seth provides the voice for) to be a pot smoking worthless prick that, for some unknown reason, is loved by all characters that surround him. And, to be honest, that's exactly what Paul was but there was some magic about the alien.
Believe it or not, Rogen's voice acting was really good and the fantastic computer effects that brought Paul to life were very, VERY good. Basically, the computer took the one thing Seth could never master--physical acting. So, the combination of convincing CG and great line readings by Rogen made for an enjoyable character--even though at its heart, the skinny alien is still the same character Rogen plays in every freakin' movie.
Now, I think I can pass over the fact that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg were great, I knew that going in. I think I can also glance over the fact that they were backed up by some fantastic and funny talent in the form of Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, Kristen Wiig and Jane Lynch. But special mention has to be given to Jason Bateman who was amazing as the "man in black" hunting down Paul. His performance was spectacular!
Finally, one thing really surprised me about Paul and that was the heavy atheist tones the film took. Not only do I find this interesting because I, myself, am a proud and vocal atheist but it's rare that you see a film that will openly acknowledge atheism without casting it into an evil light. Pegg himself is an open atheist but claims the reason for these themes was to get the militant Christian character played by Kristen Wiig to swear like a sailor on a bender. But in my opinion, it's hard to not do a film that contains an alien and not bring up the discussion of God.
As fellow atheist Carl Sagan showed us in his book Contact, the idea of meeting with another lifeform from another planet could have devastating impacts on the believes and ideas of the faithful on this planet. People are raised and taught that their God made them in his image, so it's no surprise that a little green guy with big black eyes and an even bigger head could shake the foundation of those teachings--and that's what Paul does to the character Wiig plays. So, even though Pegg did this all in a very round about way to get a Christian to swear and bring in some laughs from the offensive nature of it all, he and Frost were making some very interesting commentary about life on other planets and Judeo-Christian religions. One would think this film could actually spark some real discussions and open debate among the believers and non-believers but if you read Christian reviews of this film (and I highly suggest you do because they are hilarious) it's clear that's not going to happen.
Even though I didn't laugh much at Paul, the story is just fun and pretty damn cool. I've always been fascinated with the idea that life exists elsewhere in the billions of billions of galaxies that reside out there, so getting to see two guys who I already relate to hang out with an alien from one of those billions of galaxies speaks to the kid in me.