What happens when you get a couple of comic nerds from England to go out to the wilds of the American Southwest and have them meet an alien with “attitude”? Well, it should be godawful, but considering that this will be brought to you by the same guys who brought you Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, well, now you’ve got a whole different story on your hands. And that’s just what you’ll get with Paul, which just hit theaters today.
Paul follows the alien of the same name, who is apparently one of his planet’s scientists, who crash-landed on this planet way back in the fifties. He then spent much of his time between spilling the secrets of intergalactic science and influencing Earth popular culture (he apparently had a whole lot to do with E.T., which explains quite a bit), but once his scientific knowledge runs out, about the only thing he’s got left are his inherent powers, like Predator-style optic camouflage and cellular regeneration, all the kind of thing that most any army would love to have. But Paul escapes, and finds himself in the company of two comic nerds on a tour of alien sites, including the ever-popular Little Aleinn (sic). And along the way, fraught with road trip peril of all types, both alien and Earthlings will learn something about themselves, and each other.
Paul’s greatest joy, and at the same time greatest offense, is that it spends substantial portions of its runtime preaching to the choir. There are a host of science fiction references in here, and some just a smidge obscure (recognize “It was a boring conversation anyway”? If you know what movie that line is from, this movie is for you.). It was a wonder neither Seth MacFarlane nor Seth Green made a cameo. There’s even a mini-Arrested Development reunion in here as Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman show up for roles. But there are so many inside nods here that it almost feels like you’re part of an exclusive club just watching this. If you’re not already a science fiction fan, don’t start here–this won’t win you over–but for the already-fans, it’s a shot of pure awesome straight to the heart of you as you node along with every subreference.
Aside from that, though, there are more than enough laughs for anybody, and not just the in-jokes, but a good old fashioned dose of Pegg And Frost Being Awesome, the kind of thing that made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz good in the first place. All the conventions are here, and they’re just as tired as ever–the nerds who don’t exercise and aren’t smooth with the ladies, the government agents who are way too forceful for their own good and sadistically delight in it, the deeply unpleasant Deliverance-style rednecks (complete with Deliverance reference!), the Christians who plug their ears and chant “La-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-la-la” in the face of anything that counters their faith, and so on. Seriously, half this stuff is pulled whole and breathing out of other scripts. But because it’s presented well, it doesn’t feel so unpleasant to watch.
It’s funny, it’s fast-paced, it’s well put together, and there are even bonuses for the sci-fi fan. Perfect? No, of course not–there are too many cliches in here to really be that great, but it will do a nice job of making you smile, and that’s important.
The Screenhead Ten Scale gives Paul an eight out of ten for its sheer dopey charm, though too many cliches keep it from being all it could be.