Monday, March 21, 2011


I have a thing for Pauls. Paul is my favorite Beatle. And Paul is my favorite movie thus far of 2011.

Yeah, I know, that's a bit of a goofy lead, but it's more than a bit of a goofy movie, which makes it all the more delightful. It continues the adventures of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who made their names in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the ingenious spoofs of zombie movies and action flicks, respectively. They also co-wrote the script for Paul.

This time, however, director Edgar Wright is not at the helm. Taking his place is Greg Mottola, who made Superbad and the shamefully undervalued Adventureland. Although Mottola isn't a visual stylist like Wright. all of Mottola's movies have an excellent feel for character, which is what makes Paul more than just a goof on E.T. This may look like an alien stoner movie, and Paul does smoke weed, but it's not Dazed and Confused Close Encounters. There's an underlying sweetness and affection running through the movie.

At first, I was a bit afraid that, as is too often the case, the trailer gave away most of the best gags and told the whole story in two minutes: two British uber-geeks on a UFO trek stumble across the world's most laid-back alien,voiced by Seth Rogen. Problem is, he's in the run from agents played by Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio.

As the film unspools, however, it keeps surprising and playing off the strengths of its cast and crew. Mottola has an especially good feel for working with comic actors, given that Hader has appeared in all three of Mottola's films, and Wiig has starred in the last two. Both of them are fun to watch, with Wiig hilariously playing up the satire of her character being a wacky Creationist. When we first meet her, she's wearing a T-shirt that says "Evolve this!" with a cartoon showing Jesus blasting a hole through Charles Darwin's head. Love thy neighbor, indeed.

In addition to the sharp satire, Pegg and Frost's screenplay crams in a plethora of references to the works of George Lucas and especially Steven Spielberg. I can't help but love a film that takes a playful shot at Mac and Me, the awful 1988 E.T. ripoff that overflowed with McDonald's product placement.

The movie does falter a bit in the home stretch when it shoehorns in an over-the-top action sequence that feels out of place because action isn't Mottola's forte, and because it throws off Paul's genial tone. Regardless, I was smiling too widely and laughing too much to care. As that other Paul once sang, Venus and Mars are all right tonight - and so is Paul.


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