Paul (***)

The funniest movie of 2011 so far, Paul is an extraterrestrial/road trip comedy that knows how to tickle the funny bone.  It’s not exactly hilarious, but enough of the jokes are amusing that there’s no denying this is an effective comedy (it reminds me a lot of English comedy, actually).  It’s also just very well made (though I’d actually say that the talent involved made me wish for a slightly more memorable film), with smooth direction from Greg Mottola and an amusing script from co-stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.  They all do their jobs well, and with Seth Rogen voicing the title character, there’s no shortage of talent to be found.  The movie is actually smarter than it lets on, and drops the geek references almost every other minute.  There’s plenty to like here, and almost nothing to complain about.

British comic book nerds Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) have traveled to America to attend Comic-Con and tour sites like Roswell and Area 51.  A good time is had, but then on the road they stumble upon something that they never expected…a real live alien.

His name is Paul (Rogen), and he’s been on the run from the government and needs their help.  He’s a rude and crude space-man, but he’s also a nice guy and the boys decide to help.  They end up also on the run from government agents, as well as a bible thumper (John Carroll Lynch) after his daughter (Kristen Wiig) runs away with them.  It’s all pretty silly stuff, but Mottola handles it all with care, and by the end you actually are invested in these characters, even the middle finger waving Paul.

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Though not as much fun as they were in their Edgar Wright flicks, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost again show great chemistry here.  They remind me of some of the great comedy pairings of the 80’s.  Pegg is slightly more the star, but both get their moments to shine.

As for Seth Rogen, his voice work is very strong, and the alien both feels reminiscent of Rogen and unique at the same time, which is no easy task.  The three of them bounce off of each other very well, making their interactions a pleasure to bear witness to.  Wiig is fun as well as a woman of god who literally sees the light because of Paul.  Lynch is under used, but far from bad.  As the government agents, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are silly, and Jason Bateman is bland until it’s revealed exactly what his point in the story is.  There are also cameos to be found, and each results in a nice laugh.  They include Blythe Danner, David Koecher, Jeffrey Tambor, and Sigourney Weaver, but the biggest laugh of the film involves none other than Steven Spielberg.

I’m  a big Greg Mottola fan, and while this is far less personal than his previous films The Daytrippers and Adventureland, and not as hilarious as Superbad, it’s still a very good movie and shows that he’s one of the more underrated filmmakers out there.  His adoption of bigger budget filming techniques is flawless.  There seems to be nothing that he can’t do in the director’s chair.  The screenplay by Frost and Pegg works partially because of its wealth of science fiction and comedy references, almost all of which work.

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Their script is less than memorable, but it’s still pretty funny and actually manages to tell a worthwhile story in the process as well.

Paul isn’t a classic, but in a year that’s lacked real strong comedy options, this stands as the highlight so far.  I laughed a bunch, and smiled most of the way through.  I wouldn’t say to expect anything magical, but this is a real crowd pleaser.  I had a very good time watching this movie, and I recommend it to all, both nerd and non.  A good time will be had at the movies, I assure you.

About Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of Indiewire's Criticwire Network as well as the Internet Film Critics Association.