Paul is the latest venture from writer Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland). The story definitely feels much more like Pegg’s style (script written with co-star Nick Frost), but the cast is full of people who have shown up in Mottola’s previous films (Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Kristen Wiig, etc.), giving some connection to Mottola’s other work. Though not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, in general, Paulis pretty funny and mostly well done.
Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are two British sci-fi geeks in America for Comic-Con, the comic book conference. After the event the two plan to tour the United States with stops at every major spot of American alien contact, from the famous Area 51 to some locations that only true enthusiasts would know about. However, their trip is interrupted when they have their own close encounter with Paul (Seth Rogen), an alien who crashed on Earth years ago and is now trying to escape from the clutches of the FBI. The two geeks team up with Paul in an attempt for him to return home.
At the start of the movie, when Graeme and Clive are at Comic-Con, there is an almost realistic feel to the movie. There are plenty of small-scale laughs in this setup portion of the movie, and there is good momentum early on. However, the movie suddenly takes on a cartoonish feel once Paul enters the picture. Paul’s CGI appearance has a little bit to do with this, but it is mostly the events that follow that give the movie this cartoonish sensibility. The action sequences are mostly unbelievable, as the two main characters are geeks who’ve probably never been in a fight. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a comedy being unrealistic, but Paul never seems to decide what kind of movie it wants to be.
With Shaun of the Dead, Pegg spoofed zombie films. The zombie genre is pretty formulaic and most movies in the genre follow the same basic conventions. Many of the jokes in Shaun revolved around these conventions. With Paulthere weren’t as many obvious frames of reference. There are family friendly alien movies, like E.T., and there are the more adult-oriented movies, like Alien. Unlike zombie movies, the conventions in science fiction aren’t as easily defined, or as easy to spoof in Shaun’s genre parody style. But Paul never feels like much of a parody, more like a sci-fi movie with comedic elements.
Without a specific comedic direction, at times Paul feels like it lacks any real purpose. The main story arc is a sort of E.T. plot with adults harboring the alien instead of kids. There are countless science-fiction references in the movie, including several references to Spielberg. For example there is a firework named after Close Encounters of the Third Kind that plays the famous alien melody from that movie. Many times these references aren’t quite jokes, more like two sci-fi-loving writers paying homage to geek culture. This sense of homage sometimes causes the movie to lose its sense of comedy.
At times it even seems the movie is going for “real” emotion, such is the case in a scene where Paul visits the person who discovered him. The Spielbergian feel of this scene and others, the special effects, and a lot of the jokes throughout make the movie feel like a kid’s movie. However, an abundance of foul mouthed words, especially from Wiig’s character as a newly born atheist, led the movie to receive an R rating. It seems the movie would appeal to kids more than adults, so the rating is definitely a drawback, and the curse words from Wiig are only truly funny a handful of times anyway.
Many of the jokes, in general, aren’t all that funny, and the jokes are often repeated. One of these ongoing jokes involves an alien with three boobs on the cover of Clive’s science fiction novel. Everyone who sees the third boob thinks it is a great idea. Apparently this movie ignores the similar alien in Total Recall. With an abundance of sci-fi references, it seems strange that none of the geeks in the movie point out that this is not the first three breasted alien. The joke is somewhat funny the first time someone notices the third boob, but as time goes on, the joke gets less and less funny.
Even with its shortcomings, Paul is still a funny movie. If it had been executed differently it probably could have been great. But too many of the jokes fall flat, and most of the events are fairly predictable.