Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paul: Sci-fi Comedy with Touch of Alien Bromance

That soft-peddling, post-masculine comedic brit-pack duo – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – are at it again. After having done a send up of zombie movies ( Shaun of the Dead), police procedurals (Hot Fuzz), and the health craze (Run, Fat Boy, Run - Pegg alone), this time they take on sci-fi nerds as the duo travel to America to visit the nerd meccas of the American Southwest: San Diego’s Comicon, Nevada’s Area 51, and even Devil's Tower Monument in Wyoming.

Armed with an intimate knowledge of all the nerd greats – from Star Trek to Star Wars to the Speilbergian ourvre – Paul starts off gently ribbing you with the best inside jokes from sci-fi lore as the duo pine for Wookie-customed females, curse in Klingon, and genuflect at a black-ops Nevada mailbox for sending alien messages. (it does require being something of a nerd oneself to fully appreciate all the comedic send-ups, such as when the rag-tag group walks into a Wyoming bar while a string quartet plays a Western arrangement of the bar theme from Star Wars). This over-nerded duo gets some welcome relief when they run into an actual alien – who happens to be named Paul, after a dog (don’t ask) – as he’s trying to escape the clutches of some actual men in black (populated by Jason Bateman and supporting cast members from Saturday Night Live).

The joke here is that Paul, who looks like the pop-culture, wobbly headed alien seen on bumper stickers galore, is actually a bit of a slacker/doofus (he’s voiced by Seth Brogan). He smokes dope, goofs on the boys, and generally gets the lot of them in trouble. A better title for this conceit might be Pineapple Express to the Stars.

The trio immediately find themselves on the lamb and desperately trying to escape the clutches of various men in black, angry hillbillies, and pissed off Christians while taking up with a myopic Christine Wiig playing a sheltered Christian whose eyes are literally opened by the wacked out alien and his brit side-kicks.

The jokes here are pretty entertaining (there’s a running bit about an alien drawing with three titties that tells you everything you need to know about nerd-boy mentality), even if the script is only half worked out. My movie partner and I pretty much improved the script with a ten-minute rewrite (instead of killing the dog at the beginning, kill the father, etc.) so it’s clear that the effort here goes into the sci-fi send-ups rather than underlying story, which follows the standard bromance trajectory as the two brit buddies learn to bond with their slacker/alien friend.

In the end, the film lacks some of the real brilliant coherence of Pegg and Frost’s earlier work. Shawn of the Dead was deadpan hilarity, and Hot Fuzz gave us deliciously wacked characters. Paul has neither the consistency of tone nor character development of those two movies. Nevertheless, with the sci-fi theme, they’ve found some new territory to mine here. They’ve created a truly weird screen presence in the Rogan-mannered alien, and they come up with some genuine guffaws. Most important than anything, we really need some good laughs these days, and the boys don’t disappoint.

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