Paul blends alien, buddy genres

Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2011

H ow nice to see an alien movie that likes to have fun. No battles, no social commentary, just some guys on the road being funny. It could be your standard buddy comedy. One of the buddies just happens to not be from around here, but who cares.

That buddy is Paul. And who wouldn’t want to hang out with him? He’s a fun dude. So it seems like a natural fit for two grownup sci-fi geeks played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to hook up with him on their first road trip in America. An obvious setup that even Paul can’t help commenting on.

Time for the plot point. Paul is an alien on the run. He crashed his spaceship and has been hanging out in Area 51 since the 1940s. Hanging out is definitely the right phrase because the little green guy is actually a little green beach bum, complete with the shorts and flip flops. He has a slacker persona, which is truly Seth Rogen incarnate. He’s not into watching his language and carries his dooby stash in his backpack. You have to wonder if the part was written that way before or after he was cast.

It turns out alien knowledge is useful for more than technological advances. Apparently, Paul’s ensured many of our entertainment sources have been right on track over the years. But it seems he’s outlived whatever knowledge the government needs from him, so it’s time to escape, hence the road trip where he literally runs into his new friends.

“Paul” was written by its two English stars. The pair has gained increasing popularity in this country with their perfect chemistry in earlier hits “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” which Pegg also co-wrote. Those who are familiar with these two will no doubt go in expecting that same back-and-forth with more than a little zaniness thrown in.

They get that all right, but, in one of the film’s few shortcomings, this doesn’t come until later. Pegg and Fuzz actually come off a little dull at first. They’re supposed to play naive and sweet, and they do. But it comes off slow until they meet the spaceman.

The laugh factor really goes up when Paul himself waltzes on screen and starts acting like, well, Seth Rogan. The other shining star is Kristen Wiig as creationist whose entire upbringing is thrown for a loop when confronted with the alien. Once she steps in, the movie goes up another two notches. Wiig is one of the few always-hilarious ones in today’s Saturday Night Live lineup. However, her film roles always seem to leave that side of her out. Here, she gets to bring her patented naivety with craziness combo. That alone is worth the ticket price.

One thing I thought was interesting, and definitely a signature of the writers behind it, was that for all of the alien’s tenancies to cuss away or light up, it’s never done for gross effect. It’s there; it’s there a lot. But it’s never swearing just to call attention to it. It always fits the spaces just fine. Anyone familiar with Rogan knows that for all his four-letter spewing he can display a gentle side, even a charming one. Of course, it’s a riot to watch Wiig rip it up. After all, her character hasn’t tried talking dirty in 30 years. She needs work.

The movie wouldn’t be half as good if the title character wasn’t believable, and thank goodness that isn’t the case. There’s a slight cartoonish-ness to Paul, but for the most part the motion capture is spot-on, right done to the details on his fat green head.

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