2011, R, 104 min. Directed by Greg Mottola. Voice by Seth Rogen. Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, John Carroll Lynch, Joe Lo Truglio.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 25, 2011
Though Gregg Mottola debuted as a writer/director with the critically adored The Daytrippers and did his best feature work with the autobiographical Adventureland, he’s twice now been a director-for-hire, shepherding someone else’s script to screen, and twice now he’s essentially made the same movie. 2007’s Superbad, the film that broke Mottola’s 11-year dry spell as a feature director, was a mash note to the primacy of the male homosocial bond between two geeky best friends (who bore more than superficial resemblance to Superbad’s screenwriters, childhood friends Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg). Paul, written by longtime mates Pegg and Frost, who also star as – you got it – geeky best friends, expands its hug circle to include not just Pegg and Frost’s sci-fi-obsessed pals, but also a trash-talking, blunt-smoking extraterrestrial named Paul (voiced by Rogen). While traveling in an RV on a tour of America’s most scenic vistas of alien activity (Area 51, Roswell, San Diego’s Comic Con), Britons Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) accidentally stumble into Paul, a real-live alien who crash-landed to Earth and is now on the lam from black-suited federal agents. Like Superbad, Paul is a quest movie; where Superbad’s young pups wanted only to get laid, Paul’s heroes want to get the alien back en route to the mother ship. (A pair of bumbling cops, played by Hader and Lo Truglio, aim to knock them off course, echoing a similar plot device in Superbad.) Where do the two films diverge? While Superbad was aggressively, even sillily raunchy – like a preteen stringing the forbidden fruit of four-letter words together and making non sequiturs – Paul is offensive solely for being so underachieving. It has such sweetness – listen as Graeme tiptoes around his friend’s tetchiness (“are you tired, sausage?”) or while the screenwriters politely push for Darwinism – that its long laugh-free stretches rub all the rawer.