Rated: R Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 18, 2011 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.
There's enough nerdy glee in this uninspired sci-fi comedy adventure to induce some cult potential status. One that will eventually be given its share of play dates on late-night cable television channels.
Paul (think of E.T. for the not-so-grown-up set) stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, and Kristen Wiig, and is fairly amusing mainly due to the way the cast embrace the wry shenanigans from a script by its two leads.
After spending time at San Diego's Comic-Con, Pegg's illustrator Graeme and Frost's comic-book writer Clive trek after some notable southwestern UFO sites in a winnebago. Upon meeting a couple of vicious rednecks (David Koecher, Jesse Plemons), the pair get a jolt from the titular smart-aleck alien (voiced by Rogen) who's on the lam from Roswell's Area 51 after some 60 years of captivity. Apparently, the one who has some special healing and thought-transfer abilities has lost his "usefulness" and has someone on the "inside."
It doesn't seem like that difficult of a task for them to help Paul by dropping him off at his mothership. Yet, trouble will ensue when they inadvertently snatch Wiig's one-eyed Bible-thumping trailer park proprietor with her radical father (John Carroll Lynch) in pursuit. Also, after the chain-smoking Paul is the dogged, mysterious Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, maybe channeling a younger Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black) with vapid G-men (think X-Files) in Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) in tow.
So, director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventure Land), with a very able cast (a few of whom he's directed) that includes Jane Lynch (doing very well on the small-screen smash Glee now) and Jeffrey Tambor, as well as (a "surprise" appearance of) one of the stars of the box-office behemoth Avatar at his disposal in the latter going. Even Blythe Danner (whose character relates to the "landing on canine" prologue offering exposition) is briefly aboard in a nicely tawdry transition from her dear Little Fockers mom Dina Byrnes. A mindful helmer is able to stage some mayhem around a constant dearth of amusing, if rather coarse line readings with "Alf-like" Rogen arguably here in sync more with the material than in The Green Hornet.
But, he's matched by the goofy geniality of Pegg and Frost (exhibiting some of the same chemistry as in the more sharply rendered Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead), adept in their spoofing the genre with E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (sometimes subtly) goofily tweaked, as much of the dialogue reflects their extensive fanboy qualities. Saturday Night Live's Wiig is up from the sketchy, one-dimensional crudeness that was MacGruber to inject sardonically pungent and sweet shadings to her very devout creationist in her increasingly rowdy Ruth, leaning towards her engaging turns in Ghost Town and even the animated hit Despicable Me.
Those into the visuals and CGI shouldn't be too disappointed, either, as Paul interacts fairly fluently with the other characters. But, the way Mottola handily, if indulgently executes a zesty escapade partially at the expense of (religious) ultraconservatives may not expand an audience who favor bro-mantic types like Pegg and Frost. There are a couple of surprises along a mostly the way even for a smug, less authentic referential schematic with a surfeit of dialogue and notable sight gags (nodding at times more broadly towards George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry with a Steven Spielberg cameo) streaming a road-trip reenactment that turns into anarchic, but hardly spectacular alien evasion.