Wednesday, March 16, 2011
"Paul" is quite possibly the first extraterrestrial stoner comedy. At least, I couldn't think of any others offhand. I Googled "movies in which aliens get stoned" and got zippo. Maybe I should've used Bing.
The alien and his human cohorts do not actually spend the entire movie getting high, but this film definitely has a crunchy road-trip vibe. Think "Cheech & Chong" meets "Starman," with some "Shaun of the Dead"-type genre spoofing. This latter flavor is not surprising, considering that "Shaun" collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost wrote the screenplay and star in "Paul."
The title character, a buggy-eyed protagonist who can turn invisible and heal people and animals with a touch, is voiced by Seth Rogen in his blowsy, cool-dude mode. We get the distinct impression that on his world, he's the Jeff Spicoli. At least, we hope he is. Paul (a nickname, and later we discover how he got it) crashed his spaceship in the desert more than 60 years ago, and seems to have little ambition or direction in life.
He's been the guest-slash-prisoner of the U.S. government ever since, and would've been content to stay there until he recently learned that he's outlived his usefulness. He goes on the lam, smashes his stolen car and gets a lift from Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), a pair of British nerds taking a tour of Area 51 and other alien-themed hot spots in a rented RV.
There's a lot of funny in-jokes about why all aliens in pop culture have the same general resemblance as Paul. He tells them the government disseminated those images so in case more of Paul's folks show up, people will at least have a frame of reference and not totally freak out. There's even a hilarious flashback where Paul gives Steven Spielberg the idea for E.T.'s glowing magic finger.
Hot on his trail is Zoil (Jason Bateman), a Secret Service agent who's really serious about his job, and seems impervious to humor. He takes orders from a female boss we only hear over the phone, and has to deal with a pair of nitwit rookies (Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader) assigned to help.
Paul, Graeme and Clive hide out in a trailer park, where they bump into Ruth (Kristen Wiig), the daughter of a Bible-thumper. She wears those odd glasses with one frame blacked out to conceal an eye condition, and it doesn't take special powers to guess Paul will have something to say about it.
His intervention helps her cling a little less bitterly to her religion, and soon Ruth is tagging along, determined to try out some new swear words and maybe break a few commandments. It's a charming, cheeky and funny role, and underlines the burning necessity that Hollywood give Wiig her own star vehicle, now.
"Paul" is directed by Greg Mottola, who helmed the ridiculously overrated "Superbad," but also the criminally ignored "Adventureland." Together with Frost and Pegg's script, they manag to find a loose, entertaining groove that's way funnier than "Pineapple Express." The humor is generally in well-traveled terrain with a generous helping of dick jokes, but somehow having it coming out of the mouth of a little green man makes it fresh and ironic.
3 stars out of four