Friday, March 18, 2011

Pee Jokes And References: Paul

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

It's hard to know exactly why "Paul," the sci-fi spoof starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a failure. Some might argue that since this is the first movie Pegg and Frost have made without their director and co-writer, Edgar Wright, that it is in his absence that blame can fall. I might agree with that if I was a fan of "Hot Fuzz," the last movie the trio made together, but that cop movie parody fell flat for me. But I did like "Sean of the Dead" well enough, and also enjoyed their TV venture, "Spaced." So I don't think I can pin the blame on the lack of Wright, or the presence of director Greg Mottola.

Instead, I'm just going to have to blame this failure on a lack of vision and some terrible laziness. It seems the movie never got much further than the concept phase.

"So, imagine two totally geeky dudes on a tour of UFO hot spots in America meet an alien that looks like what we all think an alien looks like, but he talks like SETH ROGEN, has a bland human name, and smokes pot!"

"OK, great! So what do the guys do with the alien?"

"Oh, you know. The usual trying to get him back to a meet up point with a ship from his home planet while running away from the feds thing."

"Cool! Let's start writing some jokes!"

"How about we just have the guys quote stuff from a bunch of sci-fi movies. That'll be funny."

"But shouldn't the alien say some funny things too?"

"He's voiced by Seth Rogen. That's funny enough!"

"You're right. Let's start filming!"

So, yes, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play two nerds, who, after a stop at Comic-Con, go on a road trip across the Southwest, and encounter a large number of American stereotypes: Gay-bashing rednecks, small-minded Bible-thumpers, big-haired waitresses, and a little green alien.

As a fellow nerd who has attended Comic-Con, has several boxes of comic books in storage, and can quote "Star Wars" with the best of them, you would think this movie was tailor made for me. Alas, much of the pop culture riffing on display in "Paul" comes off as nothing more than lame pandering. To merely quote "Star Wars" is not a joke. Comedy so often comes from the unexpected, but there is nothing unexpected in "Paul." Anal probe jokes? Check. An appearance by Devils Tower? Check. A bar band playing the music from the Cantina scene in "Star Wars"? Check. Someone quoting "Aliens" at Sigourney Weaver, not to mention the mere presence of Sigourney Weaver? Check and check.

Still, I didn't come out of "Paul" hating life, like I did after watching "Hall Pass." There's a talented cast of co-stars on hand, doing their best to elevate the material. Kristen Wiig's Christian trailer park manager has a few funny, foul-mouthed moments. Jason Bateman does the steel-jawed man-in-black thing very well. Blythe Danner--yes, Blythe Danner--has some surprisingly sweet scenes near the end. And while there is no doubt that the alien Paul is a CG creation, it's well done, and not a distraction.

Perhaps for some, merely being able to recognize all the references, combined with some pee jokes, and the sight of an alien's bare ass is enough for an evening's entertainment. But I was expecting much, much more than something your average Comic-Con fan boy could have cooked up.

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