Combustible Celluloid
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With: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen (voice), Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Jeffrey Tambor, Nelson Ascencio, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, John Carroll Lynch, Steven Spielberg (voice), Blythe Danner
Written by: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Greg Mottola
MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, and some drug use
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/13/2011

Paul (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

E.T. Off

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote the screenplay for Paul, and after the sharpness of their first two outings, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it feels a bit soft and sludgy, deliberately dumbed down for an audience of sci-fi and comic book nerds. (Their homoerotic friendship was once subtext, and now it's an overt joke.) Likewise, director Greg Mottola, whose previous features Superbad and Adventureland were examples of emotional maturity combined with comic depravity, can't quite reach the level of his earlier work.

Visiting the United States for the first time, Brits Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are on a geek tour of comic book conventions and alien landing sites. While on the road, they crash their Winnebago into a car and meet the laid-back Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an escaped alien. If Paul doesn't meet his ship by a certain time U.S. agents will certainly kill him, and so the two nerds must break out of their comfort zones to help. Along the way they "kidnap" Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), who works at a trailer park, and any number of various rednecks, secret agents, and oddballs join in the chase. Can Paul make it in time?

Happily, Paul has a genuine sweetness and relaxed quality that eventually works, even though it doesn't quite live up to its potential. The shocking humor slowly smoothes itself out and meshes into the laid-back quality of the narrative, and the sheer presence of the cast helps. (Sigourney Weaver provides some bite, as well as a bit of sci-fi history, as a mysterious government figure.) It could have been quite a bit more, but at least it's charming.

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