After having spent this weekend satisfying my inner geek at WonderCon, it seems only appropriate to cap the weekend with my review of PAUL, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s latest comedy to grace America’s shores from the great UK. I don’t know whether the British duo are comic book geeks, but based on their films, I suspect that they are. Regardless, the pair pays a hilarious and beautiful tribute to all things geek and it begins it at the annual geek ritual that is called the San Diego Comic Con. Joining Pegg and Frost are the comedic talents of Seth Rogen and instead of Edgar Wright directing, we now have Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD) helming. PAUL has unfairly been derided recently as not being on par with Pegg and Frost’s previous efforts. After having now seen PAUL (and without lowering my expectations of it), I can confidently say that the film surpasses HOT FUZZ and almost matches what the pair pulled off in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. PAUL is a funny, witty, insightful, and surprisingly emotional geek road trip movie that deserves to be seen by anyone who has good comedic taste.

PAUL introduces our characters, Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), two best buds and sci-fi geeks from the UK who have flown out to San Diego to attend the famous Comic Con. As part of their trip (or ‘holiday’ as the Euros like to call it), the pair has planned on driving an RV across Arizona and New Mexico to visit all the UFO sites. During their road trip, however, they run into an alien being (voiced by Rogen), who is on the run from secret government agents that are out to get him. The now-trio also ends up befriending a sheltered trailer girl, who escapes with the three, but which also causes her religious fanatic of a father to chase after them through the American Southwest.

I guess the first question to ask is whether its possible to enjoy this movie if you’re NOT a comic book or sci-fi fan and my answer is YES! Surely, being a fan will enhance your enjoyment of the film’s many in-jokes and pop cultural references, but the film stands on its own as a funny and engaging comedy movie that is accessible to even the most comic/sci-fi ignorant person out there. The comedy is of the British (e.g. dry, witty, sarcastic) variety, which I always find to be the best kind. Add to this the fact that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are currently among the funniest representatives of that type of humor. At the same time, PAUL refrains from simply being a sounding board for its comedians to spew off jokes from the start to the beginning (like all of Will Ferrell’s comedies). PAUL also takes an opportunity to provide an insightful commentary on American culture. For one thing, the film contains a hilarious take on the creationism vs. evolution debate. More generally, we get a British look at American geekdom and the irrational, at times fanatical, obsession we have over our pop cultural icons. At the same time, the film pays a reverential homage to classic Hollywood sci-fi films, especially those of Spielberg’s early movies. Further elevating this film beyond merely being a light, escapist comedy, PAUL has a surprisingly emotional heart that I for one was not expecting. There is one particular scene where the alien reunites with the woman who first discovered him when she was a little girl. It’s a touching scene and it’s a testament to the talents of the actors and filmmakers involved in pulling it off and avoiding making it cheesy.

I’ve come to realize that one of my favorite types of movies are road movies. I realized this after numerous brainstorming sessions where I tried to come up with ideas for a screenplay. Many of the ideas I came up with took place on journeys. I suppose it’s the whole getting to somewhere aspect of these ideas that attracts me. However, one of the easiest pitfalls to fall into when writing a road movie is making all the events and characters your main characters meet seem random and convenient for the purposes of telling the story. In other words, your story needs to flow and provide rhyme and reason as to why certain things happen and particular people enter the lives of your characters. A recent example of a film that royally fucks this up is DRIVE ANGRY. The events of the movie are so poorly connected with each other that the film completely fails to build any momentum. Not so with PAUL. Here, the writers adeptly develop a momentum from the time our two friends meet up with the alien to eventually finding the pick-up spot for the alien to go back home. The scenes that make up the film make sense and support the story instead of serving as stand-alone scenes that serve no purpose other than to either provide action or comedy. Even though this is a comedy, by the time you reach the end of the film, all the events have built up to a pretty suspenseful moment.

Other than the wonderful comedic talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, PAUL contains a diversely talented supporting cast that lends the film added quality. As I mentioned before, the alien, Paul, is voiced by Seth Rogen. I think I may have talked about this in my review of THE GREEN HORNET, but Rogen is the type of comedian who you will either find to be very funny or not funny at all. I fall in the ‘very funny’ camp and I Rogen has never failed to be hilariously funny in my opinion. His humor is inventive, irreverent, and intelligent (seriously, I did not purposefully intend to come up with three adjectives beginning in ‘i’) and he serves as the perfect complement to Pegg and Frost’s comic sensibilities. I don’t think you will not enjoy PAUL if you’re not a Rogen fan, but I hate to admit that you will like it much less so you’ve been warned.

The cast also includes great comedic turns from Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio, who play government agents sent out to find and capture the alien. Bateman plays the same straight-as-an-arrow serious role that we always see him play, but you know what? If it works and you continue to be entertained by it, then why change your routine? All three actors provide plenty of complementary comic relief that at times is absolutely hilarious. Finally, there is a very special guest star at the end of the film, but I won’t say who it is, but lets just say this actor is one of the seminal actors in the sci-fi movie genre.

Some of you will be disappointed by PAUL if you’re expecting the same sort of humor that was in SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. Unlike those films, PAUL doesn’t contain a lot of real gags or jokes. Those films were essentially spoofs of horror and buddy action movie genres. Although PAUL also more or less spoofs many aspects of the sci-fi genre, this film serves more as an homage than a spoof. Surprisingly, the film also contains more serious moments, but instead of derailing the movie, it heightens the comedic aspect of the funny moments. After seeing the film, I wondered whether the fact that Edgar Wright not being involved in this film had anything to do with the change in the tone of the film. It very well may be, but it may also be very likely that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have grown as artists and have perhaps entered into a different phase of their craft. Whatever the case, Pegg and Frost have fortunately maintained their touch and have not become too Hollywoodized (although I could have done without the car chases and the unconvincing and forced central romance).

In the end, PAUL turns out to be one of the best films of 2011 so far (and yes, I know its only April). The film does have a few problems, but it remains a superior comedy that unfortunately got marketed very poorly in the States. However, don’t let the crappy trailers dissuade you from seeing the film, especially if you’re a geek like me.

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