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Friday, March 25, 2011

Paul (Release Date: 3-18-2011)

        Lazy has always struck me as a strange word to use in the description of a movie. It takes about a bajillion people to make one (Hollywood productions, anyways), not to mention an amount of time that is usually measured in years, and a budget that is often tabulated in millions. And yet, moments like the dancing/emo scene in Spider-Man 3 still make their way to the big screen, making one wonder who, if anyone, is proof-reading some of these scripts. To be fair, there's an awfully thin line between faking laziness and actually becoming it, and it's a line that the three stars of Paul, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and (especially) Seth Rogen, tend to be able to locate.

        Paul follows the wacky exploits of Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), a couple of British über nerds who have finally fulfilled a life-long dream of coming to America to witness the glory that is Comic Con. In addition to attending the gathering, the two have planned out a nation-spanning road trip to visit the locations of all of the country's most famous UFO sightings. Mid-jaunt, however, the two run into Paul, a grey-green, bulb-headed little man from outer-space voiced by Rogen. Claiming to a desperate urgency that he refuses to explain, Paul implores Graeme to take him with them, and the three set out on just the type of road-trip you'd expect from a couple of Trekkies and Seth Rogen.

         It's important to note that I say Rogen as opposed to an alien, because neither the movie's screenplay nor the man himself do anything at all to distinguish Paul from the standard Rogen arch-type. It's quite possibly the last stop before Rogen finds himself on the same career plateau as Michael Cera, desperately trying to convince a fan base that he is capable of playing more than just himself. I'm generally a Rogen fan, and the screenplay is loaded with several justifications for the martian's crass actions, but the slew of penis-jokes and joint-smoking feel both overly familiar and jarringly detached from Paul's visual on-screen incarnation. The motion-capture effects are fairly impressive considering the type of movie they're being utilized in, but no amount of technology could make Paul feel like anything other than Rogen's stand-in.

        Modern comedy wise, it's difficult to imagine a more gifted cast. Besides Pegg, Frost, and Rogen, we have on hand Kristen Wiig, Jason Batemen, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio (the creeper from Superbad), and, in more minor roles, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, and Sigourney Weaver. It's the definition of an embarrassment of wealth, and Director Greg Mottola doesn't seem quite sure what to do with it. In the past, the helms-man has shown an outstanding ability to balance big performances with bit parts (Superbad and Adventureland), but here, he seems swallowed up in all of the comics he's splitting time between. By the movie's end, Pegg and Frost hardly seem like the main characters anymore, and even if this is intentional (the two wrote the script themselves), it doesn't help a movie that already feels kind of off-balance. Mottola also lacks the visual wit of Pegg and Frost's previous director, Edgar Wright, and though he's got a fair amount of subtle charms of his own, its impossible to not pine for distinctive energy and verve of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

        Before I give this one a bad grade, it's important to note that I was likely on the outside of a few inside jokes. As with all Pegg and Frost flicks, this one goes heavy on the reference, and there's a lot to be said for the movie appealing to a less casual Sci-Fi fan than myself. But references are only funny when well-handled, and I don't feel compelled to give this one a leg-up grade-wise just because it's able to name-check about fifty movies that only your one weird friend has seen. With the whole adding up to shockingly less than the sum of the parts, Paul is an affair so mirthless that it won't even let its two CLEARLY gay protagonists just love on each other. That would have been an inspired choice in a movie that, as is, doesn't have one to it's name. With a cast like this one, Paul was never going to be a completely void movie experience, but that's about all that you can say for it.

Grade: D+

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