Friday, December 16, 2011

Paul Is A Surprisingly Fun Movie . . . After A Time

The Good: Very funny, Good character development, Decent plot progression, Amazing special effects, Good DVD bonus features
The Bad: Rocky beginning
The Basics: Unfathomably underwhelming in its box office performance, Paul is a winning science fiction comedy worth checking out!

At this point, there are very few movies I have missed in theaters that I have been excited about seeing now on DVD. Fortunately, one of them came along last night in the form of a science fiction comedy. The movie is Paul and it has left me utterly baffled. First, I am surprised that it did not do better in the theaters. Paul is exceptionally funny, well-developed and all-around interesting after a somewhat rocky start (the first five minutes are wonderful, but then the movie drags for about twenty minutes before getting and staying good).

The other big surprise for me was that the DVD came with both an “R”-rated and “Unrated” version of the movie. My wife and I, not at all easily offended, watched the “Unrated” version of the film and we could not determine what was not worthy of just an “R” rating in it. I’ve seen movies with worse language, more nudity and more violence/gore than Paul had, so whatever aspect the MPAA wouldn’t let pass without going past “R” is not immediately evident. This just reaffirms the idea that the MPAA is a ridiculous organization.

Graeme Willy and his best friend Clive Gollings are visiting the San Diego Comic Con from the UK. After days of geeking out and meeting their favorite science fiction writer, Adam Shadowchild, the pair prepares to tour the great U.F.O. hotspots in the American Midwest. After encountering two homophobes in a weird diner, Graeme and Clive flee – extensively damaging the homophobe’s truck in the process – in their RV. That night, they believe they are being pursued by the two men when a car accelerates past them in the desert before careening out of control. Rushing to the aid of the driver, they discover the driver is an alien, Paul, and he needs their help to get back home.

Seeking refuge at a trailer park, run by Evangelical Christians, Graeme finds himself smitten with Ruth Buggs, the one-eyed daughter of the trailer park owner. When Paul cures her of her backward notions on denying evolution, Ruth is compelled to join the men in their quest to get Paul back to where his friends will pick him up. The alien, men, and Ruth are hunted by a Man In Black, Zoil, two Federal agents, the two homophobes and Ruth’s distraught father who believes she has been abducted, in a cross-country adventure that is exceptionally funny.

Paul gets an admittedly rough start. The movie very sensibly takes its time to establish Graeme and Clive well in advance of Paul’s first appearance. This makes sense, it is entirely necessary (far too many films just right into the action without establishing the characters enough), but Simon Pegg, Nick Frost (as both writers and actors) and director Greg Mottola just do not land it. The movie trundles along until Ruth encounters Paul and it is an unfortunate, meandering start fraught with pacing issues and gags that do not hold up after the first viewing.

That said, there is so much to recommend about Paul. Far from being dull at all, once Paul takes off, it truly is engaging in every frame. To wit, the movie establishes moments well and even though they might be predictable in their structure, Paul makes it work. So, for example, in a key scene at a farmhouse, we see someone trying to light a stove before Paul distracts them. When a shootout ensues, the seasoned moviegoer knows that the house is going to explode at some point because the gas from the stove is still on. Yet, even with that foreshadowing, the execution of it is incredible and fun.

The characters in Paul are fun and they actually develop over the course of the film. Graeme easily embraces Paul and his mission, while Clive is resistant to getting involved. While there is a wonderful moment wherein Clive explains to Paul why he is jealous of the alien, the movie neglects to address the fundamental flaw in Clive’s character. Clive is an uber-geek who is meeting a real, live extraterrestrial, yet he is sullen and bored. Sure, he faints when he first sees Paul (which is the source of a running joke about Clive’s urine-soaked pants), but he never seems excited about just what it means for him to be sitting beside an alien life form.

Paul himself is a likable character. The alien is entirely computer-generated and voiced by Seth Rogen. He is a wisecracking alien who is remarkably tied to humanity. He has been on earth for decades and still feels bad about how he arrived there, leading him to an act of penance as the film goes on. The high-minded sensibility Paul articulates in combatting Ruth is enjoyable to watch and is refreshing to hear in a movie these days. Paul’s sensibility easily outshines how Graeme is essentially falling in love with the first woman he sees.

The other superlative aspect of Paul is the acting. Simon Pegg gives his usual funny performance and to the best of my recollection, this is the first time I have seen Nick Frost in a film. The support cast of Jane Lynch, Jeffrey Tambor, David Koechner, Bill Hader, and John Carrol Lynch is extraordinary. This is also one of Kristen Wiig’s best performances. She is funny as Ruth and her performance is not reminiscent of any of the many, many other character she has played in recent films.

But by far the best performance in Paul comes from Jason Bateman. Bateman plays Agent Zoil and he even holds himself different from his usual body language in other movies. It is odd seeing Bateman play a complete badass, but he pulls it off expertly in Paul.

On DVD, Paul comes with a blooper reel and the ability to watch the film as an unrated version with six additional minutes of movie. I recommend the unrated version. There are other featurettes on the making of Paul, but some of them are just repetitive. That should not be enough to steer one away from Paul, though. This is an exceptionally funny, well-executed science fiction comedy that is well worth seeing!

For other science fiction comedies, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Men In Black
Planet 51


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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