Seth Rogen Plays a Foulmouthed, Dope-Smoking, Ass-flashing Alien in Paul

Categories: Film and TV
PaulFilm.jpg
Paul is not the third installment in the so-called Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, though there are indeed servings of both. Note the one key missing element: Edgar Wright, who directed and co-wrote with Pegg both the 2004 zom-com Shaun of the Dead and 2007's Hot Fuzz.

Greg Mottola instead directs Paul, and he's an escapee from Judd Apatow's stable, having done several Undeclared episodes leading up to his Superbad night out with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, whose Arrested Development Mottola also worked on.

Consider Paul the ultimate modern-comedy crossover, as damp a dork's dream as when Superman teamed up with Spider-Man or when Captain Kirk met Captain Picard in Star Trek: Generations, among the approximately 382 films referenced in Paul.


But Wright's absence is notable for reasons so subtle they almost don't matter, but which are so evident they finally render Paul lightweight and less than essential, unlike Shaun and Hot Fuzz, which entertain no matter how many times you see them. It's the difference between parody and tribute -- between Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest.



In this case, the alien is a shirtless, foulmouthed, dope-smoking ass-flasher named Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen. Paul looks like every alien throughout popular culture -- bulbous noggin, wide-screen eyes, rail-thin frame -- because, as it turns out, he's the original pop-cult prototype.

As he explains, after he crash-landed on earth in 1947 and wound up in government captivity, Paul's likeness was marketed via moving pictures and literature in order to get people used to his image, should there ever be an actual alien invasion. And he's no E.T. rip-off, man; that's his life story, down to his gig as Steven Spielberg's uncredited consultant.

Frost and Pegg (Scotty!) are Paul's ideal chaperones: They are, respectively, stalled-out sci-fi novelist Clive Gollings and his illustrator/best friend Graeme Willy, traveling across the "extraterrestrial highway" in the Southwest desert in an RV as part of a holiday that begins at Comic-Con in San Diego. Who better to escort an extraterrestrial cross-country than nerds who want to believe (speaking of: Mulder and Scully were also Paul's invention)?

 Along the way, the trio encounters a True Believer of a different stripe: Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a cycloptic Creationist who, with her devout daddy, runs an RV park in the middle of nowhere. Wiig is the revelation here: A screeching sketch artist, she brings rare depth and genuine warmth to the thankless, one-dimensional role of a God-fearing Bible-thumper.

Her scenes with Paul -- when he reveals to her the size of the universe or introduces her to the simple pleasures of a well-used expletive -- are more rewarding than those that the alien shares with Pegg and Frost. Only then does the movie transcend parody and stop being a game of spot the reference, becoming its own singular creation.

That's not to dismiss Paul's simple pleasures -- if nothing else, its fondness for sex and drugs and four-letter words rescues its references from the soft hands of wee ones into which they've fallen of late. 

This is the smart-ass stoner's E.T., the movie the fanboy parent won't be able to hand down like some tattered, squeaky-clean memento to his action-figure-collecting kids. It's just not quite right without Wright, who could have helped Frost and Pegg stuff Mel Brooks back into their Han Solo Underoos.

--Robert Wilonsky


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