March 19, 2011

Paul

Paul's a terrible name for this movie. Perhaps the idea is to emphasize the central irony of the character: this crash-landed alien has gone native as an average American? How about E.T. Part 2: Fugitive Stoner From Mars? Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's latest combines Richard Dreyfuss' mad Midwest road trip from Close Encounters (remember that sad station wagon he rented?) with Midnight Run-style fugitive antics. There's a good balance of action and comedy, great locations, a house blows up in an exciting and genuine fashion, plus there's a terrific-looking CGI alien named Paul.

Frost and Pegg are comic book fanboys/BFFs who treat themselves to a RV road trip among the UFO hotspots of the American Southwest. When a four foot green alien nicknamed Paul emerges from the wreckage of a black Ford Crown Vic, their long-imagined first contact doesn't go the way they dreamed their whole lives. One of the jokes is that Paul's a better adjusted Earthling than the Earthlings are. What if E.T. were captured by the Men In Black, and grew up into a no bullshit, easy-going kinda buddy in cargo shorts and Birks?... except he has healing powers (like E.T. or the empath on Star Trek) and he can go invisible (like Predator.)
The Men In Black aren't going to let Paul get away: Jason Bateman is terrific as the only competent fed. He takes his usual wound-too-tight routine, then replaces the sardonic wit with a deadly seriousness. Michael Bluth never held his gun to GOB's head, but this guy does.

Kristen Wiig is solid as a sheltered trailer parker, brainwashed by her father's nutty fundamentalist beliefs, who has a secular revelation, then drinks deep from the cup of regularness: her attempts at swearing are earnest and hilarious, and the (thankfully brief) marijuana scene is funny, and short.
There are a couple of jaw-dropping cameos, and plenty of direct references to E.T., Close Encounters, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. At 104 minutes, it felt a little choppy, as if there's 10 minutes of character development left on the cutting room floor. I enjoyed it while knowing Frost and Pegg from all their other collaborations, but would a newbie be able to appreciate their characters without that foundation? What about Paul? I could feel more background stories about him lingering around the edges of the movie. I eagerly await the deleted scenes on the DVD. My wife puts this spottiness directly at the feet of director Greg Mottola (Adventureland, Superbad) whose career has underwhelmed us so far. If this had been directed by Frost/Pegg collaborator Edgar Wright, all the valuable character development would have been presented in a few efficient little scenes. No such luck here.
Sorry to end on a down note- it was actually a fun ride. B-plus!

P.S.: According to Google Maps, the drive from Area 51 to Moorcroft Wyoming is over 950 miles.

At the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Austin (South Lamar Blvd) -- read my review of the Alamo Drafthouse.