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Paul: Close Encounters of the Lewd Kind

by Zach Oat March 18, 2011 6:00 am
<i>Paul</i>: Close Encounters of the Lewd Kind

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are like the geek community's Laurel and Hardy. After Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, putting them together in a movie -- even without Edgar Wright at the helm -- is like mixing up a batch of nerd Kool-Aid, and we're all gonna drink it. But while the Greg Mottola-directed Paul is packed with plenty of references to comic books, Comic-Con and science fiction, it's also a raunchfest worthy of the Superbaddirector. So if you're a nerd who likes dick jokes, you'll be McLovin' it, but otherwise it's just a fun road trip comedy that somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. Think of it as Fanboys with two Brits and an alien, and minus Kristen Bell.

Pegg and Frost play Graeme and Clive, two British (d'ya think?) comic-book geeks -- also an aspiring sci-fi author/illustrator team -- in America for the first time to attend the San Diego Comic-Con. After meeting their favorite author, shopping for swords and buying a Gorn mask, they begin their RV tour of the Southwest's most famous alien landing sites and Star Trek shooting locations. It's while on the road that they encounter Paul, an alien who's been a guest of the government for decades but who escaped once he'd outlived his usefulness and was slated for dissection. Paul is voiced by Seth Rogen, and since he's had little to do but study popular culture over the last 50 years, he curses like a sailor, smokes a little reefer and does a great Predator imitation. But he's also influenced culture, which is why most aliens are made to look like him -- and why E.T. can heal people and likes Reese's Pieces (Paul and Spielberg are tight).

As they help Paul get to his rendezvous site (another famous Spielberg location), Graeme and Clive are pursued by a relentless FBI agent (Jason Bateman) and two less-than-relentless junior agents (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio). They also run across a couple of redneck bullies (David Koechner and Jesse Plemons) and enrage a Bible-thumping RV park owner after they kidnap his daughter because she saw Paul. The daughter, played by Kristen Wiig, becomes the fourth member of the band and a love interest for Graeme, and she quickly casts off her good Christian shackles to speak almost entirely in expletives. Paul swears as well, in addition to frequent exhibitionism, but the maniacal Wiig still steals every scene she's in from the well-animated, but also well-adjusted, alien.

Between all of the sci-fi movie references, the Comic-Con footage (albeit not actually shot at SDCC) and the fact that Simon Pegg is playing a comic artist again (this time it appears to be Darick Robertson ghosting for him, and not Simon Bisley like in Spaced), there's an endless supply of material for nerds to geek out over, but the film never reaches the epic heights that it should. The Southern redneck stereotypes are a little unfortunate, as is the crazed evangelist character, but there was supposedly even more creationism-vs.-evolution stuff that got cut -- as it is, it's still a terrible advertisement for being a foreign tourist in the American Southwest. And the endless probing jokes and the ridiculous curses (crafted by an inexperienced newbie) feel like easy attempts at cheap laughs, especially after the seventh or eighth time you hear them. Still, Hader and Lo Truglio are pretty funny, and Bateman is almost frightening at times -- I think I might just prefer the stone-cold killer Bateman to the goofy comedian Bateman, based on his recent comedy output. Add in cameos by Jane Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor, Blythe Danner and Sigourney Weaver, and you've got an entertaining placeholder in the unfinished Pegg-Frost-Wright trilogy. Someday, hopefully, Wright will make his own Part III, and this movie can get filed next to Fanboys where it belongs, for both good and bad.

Did you see Paul? Let us know what you thought below, then read more movie reviews here. And check out our guide to the most geek-targeted movies!

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