“Paul,” the new comedy from “Sean of the Dead” duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a something-for-everyone movie. Sci fi, check. Buddy comedy, chase scenes, fish-out-of-water and romance? Check, check, check and check.
Pegg and Frost play British sci fi nerds exploring “the less touristy side of the American Midwest.” Starting at nerd central, Comic Coin, they plan to RV it to every UFO landing site they can find—the Black Mailbox, Area 51—but their trip is sidelined when they come across an actual alien, Paul (voice of Seth Rogen), a foulmouthed ET on the lam. For sixty years after crash landing on earth he lived at an army base thinking he was a guest. When he realized he was a prisoner, he says, he made a run for it. Pursued by federal agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) and the angry father of a girl they accidentally kidnap (Kristen Wiig) they try and make it back to Paul’s mothership and his ride back to the safety of his own planet.
“Paul,” which was written by Pegg and Frost, lacks the laugh-out-loud-every-two-minute rhythm of their previous movies, “Sean of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” but it has a lot of heart. Pegg and Frost have great chemistry—they’re kind of the Laurel and Hardy of geek culture—and are absolutely likeable in the leads. They are responsible for 90% of what makes “Paul” so agreeable.
The alien is amusing and way less of a frat boy character than the trailer would have you believe. They’ve also given him a cool backstory—he was the model for all big eyed pop culture extraterrestrials and consulted with Spielberg on the making of ET—and while Rogen’s voice work is OK and the computer face rather expressive, he’s not as much fun as Pegg and Frost. Ditto Wiig who is stuck with running gags involving Charles Darwin—born again Christians beware! You will not be pleased—and loads of creative swearing that never tickles the funny bone.
Despite its downsides—some misfired gags and a conventional story structure—“Paul” is satisfying not because of its homage to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or the excellent call-back to “Aliens” but because of the relationships and the bonds that form between the characters. I can’t help but think that “Paul” might have had more of a funny edge had “Sean of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright had been at the helm, but as it stands “Paul” is an enjoyable diversion.