Monday, March 21, 2011

Paul - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 18, 2011

What happens when some of the Judd Apatow crew combine their talents with the people that gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? The answer is a not too surprising blend of humor, heart and vulgarity with this new spin on the alien trying to return home storyline mixed with as many classic Science-Fiction movie references that you can shake a phaser at.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC Glendora 12
Time: 2:10 pm March 18, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Loves: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Science Fiction
Likes: Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, road trip movies
Neutral: Greg Mottola
Hates: Nothing actually
Crazy: The number of Sci-Fi references they stuffed into this thing

I was one of the few that didn't find director Greg Mottola's Superbad to be all that funny. I actually came away from that film a little bit unhappy due to its inherent mean nature (granted that feeling is mostly due to Jonah Hill's character in it). His followup feature Adventureland was a much better film in my opinion but that general feeling of unhappiness still persisted while watching it. So when I saw he was the guy directing the next film to pair up this generations premiere comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost I was a little weary because the last thing I wanted was to leave a film starring those two lovable blokes feeling unhappy. Thankfully due to their gift for comedy and heartfelt sentiment (plus their writing talents) I came away from Paul feeling very happy indeed. Despite the obscene amount of cursing used throughout the course of the film I found this to be one of the more pleasant and endearing films I have seen in a long time.

Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are two very close friends that have an affinity towards all things extraterrastrial. They have decided to make the jump across the pond to come on over and visit all the alien hot spots during a road trip starting from the San Diego Comic-con all the way to Roswell New Mexico. During their trek they come across an actual living and speaking alien called Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who is on the run from the men in black after escaping a secret facility where he had been held captive for the past 50 or so years. Paul isn't your typical alien either, upon their first contact with the little guy it is apparent that he is just an easy going type of alien that has seen (or influenced) it all and just wants to go home now. And who better to help him get home than two geeks like Graeme and Clive. And of course that road home isn't an easy one as they must avoid the agent tracking Paul, Zoil (Jason Bateman), the two rookie men in black agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), a couple of rough hillbillies Gus (David Koechner) and Jake (Jesse Plemons) and recruit the help the devout Christian Ruth (Kristen Wiig) whom after meeting Paul starts to question her beliefs.

Graeme and Clive make sure everyone knows they are hardcore geeks.

There are many elements that help Paul come together but the one ingredient that was necessary to make any of it work was the casting of Simon Pegg & Nick Frost. Anybody familiar with the other films that paired the two of them together will feel immediately at home as soon as the two of them first appear on screen. These two guys just have that magic between them that makes everything they do work. I suppose that is why most of the ventures that Pegg has tried on his own have only been mildly successful, they just seem to be at their best when they are working opposite one another. You can believe these two guys have been friends for most of their lives. That camaraderie and chemistry is undeniable which lends the film a much needed sense of companionship between the two characters they play.

But like I said there are many pieces that help everything work. The title character Paul was a bit of a worry for me from those initial trailers. I had feared that he was going to be loud, obnoxious, and basically a pain in the ass for our two heroes but thankfully he ended up being anything but that. I have never been a huge fan of Seth Rogen, he has yet to inspire me to go see something just because of his involvement, but after seeing this film I cannot imagine another person doing the voice for Paul. He gives Paul a certain amount of charm despite being overly vulgar through most of the film. And most importantly Paul isn't annoying, hell he even steals certain scenes from the dynamic duo which I thought was impossible. But I think the best way to explain what makes Paul the character work is just how laid back he is through everything. He does freak out every now and then but mostly it feels like he is just along for the ride. By the end of the film you feel as though you could hang out with him and have a good time.

Paul is a pretty cool guy for an alien.

And that relaxed nature pervades through the entire film. Even when they are being chased or are on the verge of being caught there is this ever present feeling of everyone just having a good time. I have read from another review where they commented on the this being the film equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold day and I can think of no other way to phrase it better than that. And because of that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Paul to anyone...except for one demographic that is, families. I was unaware of the film carrying the R rating before seeing it and I can confirm for anyone wondering that it is not shy with the language. While it may seem somewhat reserved at first, as soon as Paul enters the picture just about any form of bad language you can think of starts to come out of every single character. The worst offender (or should I say best offender?) is Kristen Wiig once she becomes freed from the chains of religion. The language isn't really a problem, most of the film's funniest moments are usually punctuated by it, but I just think that anybody that has seen the trailer and thinks it looks fun to take the kids to should be warned.

That isn't to say there isn't funny stuff in here for everyone though. I can't think of any particular moment where I laughed out loud but I was grinning from beginning to end. A lot of the film's humor has to be directed to the cast that was assembled. I have always liked Jason Bateman and think he pulled off a very difficult part here. He has to play the stick in the mud agent with no emotions but still be funny and Bateman does deadpan comedy to perfection. His two bumbling cohorts deserve special mention as well, they are probably some of the worst special agents I have ever seen but because of that there were some priceless moments involving them (love that comic shop scene). Then you have the one actor that (in my humble opinion) steals just about every scene she is in, Kristen Wiig. Once she joins our other worldly trio to make it an official foursome the energy of the film picks up immensely.

The men in black...and beige...

I am not sure how to explain what she did to steal her scenes because quite honestly her style of comedy is very timid. She appears so fragile, like if the wrong thing is said to her that she will just fall apart (which happens in a manner of speaking). The way she plays Ruth as a Christian that believes in our lord and savior so blindly is not really done for laughs I thought. I suppose the argument can be made that there were some pokes and jabs at religion there but what I found refreshing about her approach is that most of the humor for her character dealt with what would happen if such a hardcore religious devoutee found out their belief system was bogus. All the scenes with her attempting to break the boundaries she had built around herself over the years were fantastic. Let's just say that she begins to use different parts of the vocabulary that were once forbidden to her and it takes her a while for her to use them right.

Now, there is one minor problem I had with the film and you probably have seen this coming from my opening statements. The director, Greg Mottola, has this way of making his films feel inconsequential.  What I mean by that is there isn't really any punch or fire to the proceedings, nothing that gets you excited. I know that I mentioned the laid back nature of the film as a plus earlier but I think there were moments where we should have been on the edge of our seats. Near the end of the film there are some instances of all kinds of crazy stuff going on but none of it was presented in a way that made me get worried for our main characters. I have to blame the director for this mainly because his past directorial efforts had the same problem. There was never a crescendo, a moment where everything has escalated to being close to being out of control. I think this is an area where if Pegg & Frost were working with their long time collaborator and friend Edgar Wright that these issues would have never been present. It could be a matter of personal taste but I just wished there had been more of an oomph to the final moments of the film.

Ruth has seen the light...of an alien spaceman that is.

Luckily the one area that Mottola did excel in was capturing every single geek-out moment of those old Science-Fiction references. Pegg & Frost were in two of this past decades best genre film homage creations ever made where they were able to capture the essence of what it was they loved about those genres while also providing a worthy entry into it. They never enter the world of parody, they never poke fun at any particular film cliche or classic film moment. Instead they wear those cliches proudly as they pay homage to those classic moments from the films that helped influence them and we love as much as they do. But even with that knowledge I wasn't fully prepared for the number of references that appear throughout Paul, be prepared for multiple early Steven Spielberg film references and even a sort of cameo by the man himself. To say this film is a Sci-Fi geeks wet dream is a bit of an understatement.

The last thing I would like to bring up before I end this is just how Paul made me feel in general. Any issues I have with directorial choices aside, this was just a really fun movie to sit down and enjoy. It's singular purpose is to entertain and entertain it does. Everyone involved just seemed to be fully 100% into what they were making which ended up being a pseudo E.T. remake with a hard R rating to give it some bite. Every ounce of screen time was used to spread the love of the Science-Fiction genre to the masses and preach to the choir. While I am sure there will be people that find it all a little too unassuming for it's own good I cannot believe there is anyone that could outright dislike it, it's just too dam good natured to be hated. While it isn't my favorite pairing of these two fantastic guys, it does still proudly reside in the prestigious company of their other two projects which is great company to have. I will leave you with this final image which is an almost perfect recreation of the look I had on my face while watching it. That is the look of pure bliss my friends and I can almost guarantee you will have the same reaction when you sit down and watch it as well.

What a refreshing little movie this is...sigh.



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