Paul (Universal Pictures, R)

So here we have a buddy road trip comedy that is intermingled with a spoof of alien movies.

 
 
 
 
Have you ever noticed that Greg Mottola has yet to direct a bad film? He’s pretty inconspicuous in Hollywood, but he’s rapidly becoming one of the best and most consistent directors of comedies, from mainstream (Superbad) to indie (The Daytrippers) to half-and-half (Adventureland, easily his best film). He’s even been successful in television (Arrested Development, Undeclared), which is a medium I generally don’t care for.
 
His new film, Paul, has a crappy trailer and looks targeted only at hardcore sci-fi wieners, but I have to tell you that it’s just as good as everything else he’s done. Here of course he’s aided by the two writers/leads, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the fellows behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and by a stellar supporting cast and surprisingly well-integrated CGI. However, at some point you have to give credit to the man on top—quiet and unnoticed as he may otherwise be.
 
Paul concerns a post-Comic Con road trip taken by Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) across the United States’ key UFO sighting locations (Area 51, Roswell, etc.). Along the way they encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen, back in form after The Green Hornet), a real alien that was the basis for basically every pop culture alien of the past half-century or so, and whom the government kept hidden and now wants back, since he’s escaped.
 
So here we have a buddy road trip comedy that is intermingled with a spoof of alien movies, which brings me back to the film seeming to have a very narrow target audience. This is an audience that I don’t think I entirely belong to—the only alien movie I can think of off the top of my head that I like is the original Alien—but I enjoyed the hell out of Paul. The rest of the audience at the screening I attended seemed to agree, despite appearing to be predominantly old ladies and the type to not laugh at the film’s wallowing in nerddom and general toilet humor.
And that’s the key, really: Paul has one hell of a funny, accessible script. Meaning, you don’t have to be able to recognize all of the references to other alien movies to enjoy this one. Aesthetically displeasing though they may be (compared only to your more typical Hollywood stars, of course), Pegg and Frost are always likeable, and as mentioned before, the supporting cast is particularly strong. Kristen Wiig pops up as Ruth, a fundamentalist Christian whom Graeme has a crush on and who inadvertently runs into Paul. The experience of coming face to face with proof that creationism is false of course corrupts her, and I don’t remember Wiig ever being funnier. We also have Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Jeffrey Tambor turning in very funny supporting performances.
 
Did you notice that aside from Pegg and Frost, all of the people named above are people whom Mottola has worked with before? He’s building himself quite a stable of actors who want to be in his movies, and he deserves it. Paul’s going to be a hard film for Universal to successfully market, and its heinous trailer is a bad start, so do yourself and the movie industry a favor and go see this film; you’ll enjoy it. I don’t want to see another good Hollywood comedy slip through the cracks while everyone complains that nothing good ever comes out anymore. | Pete Timmermann

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