Don’t you remember the 80s? No, I’m not talking about New Wave music, purple mohawks, or Ronald Reagan; I’m talking about the legion of movies and TV series involving an alien that crash lands on Earth, bonds with a kid and his family, avoids government authorities who want to cut him up for science, and hitches a ride back to his home planet. E.T., ALF, Mac & Me – everyone was infatuated with the stupid things. And of course, they were the first thing that came to mind about twenty minutes into Paul, a film in which an alien crash lands on Earth, bonds with two nerds, avoids government authorities that… Oh, sorry, spoilers.
On paper, Paul seems like a big deal. Take stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and partner them with the director of Superbad and other Apatow frequenters (Kristina Wiig, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen) and you have a recipe for success- or do you? Graham (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are at the San Diego Comicon, their first time in America, ogling celebrities, grabbing tchotchkes, and embracing the super-nerdy atmosphere. This is a first stop for the duo before they begin a sightseeing tour through the American southwest to visit a variety of alien hotspots. Along the way, they witness a car crash in the Nevada desert and pick up Paul, a dirty-minded grey alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who needs their help to make a break for it. Of course, the government wants him back and sends Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) to pull it off, who subsequently partners with dim-witted local FBI agents (Hader, Lo Truglio).
Zany antics ensue as they hop from RV park to RV park, including the kidnapping of the one-eyed Ruth (Wiig), a Christian fundamentalist who can’t believe that an alien could possibly exist in God’s Holy Universe. Also, anal probe jokes. A house explodes. Like Pegg/Frost’s previous films with Edgar Wright, Paul is a slow starter, equipped with a sense of humor that’s so subtle at times that you have to remind yourself to laugh. In a way, it feels like a throwback alien-out-of-water film, but dirtied up a bit. It’s nerd bait and proud of it, but it never really excels at anything. Did they even need an alien in this film? Not really, Paul doesn’t really have any special powers or wacky ray guns, he’s just… him. There was a lot of potential here, but Paul never really gets off the ground. (See what I did there?)