! = recommended
* = all-ages
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To paraphrase a popular T-shirt, there are 11 types of people in the world:
- Those who are confident in the belief that they who would NEVER enjoy a road movie about two guys picking up a wisecracking, foulmouthed, pop culture-obsessed ET hitchhiker (personally I think such people are weird - but I'm sure they exist).
- Those who are now sort of curious, but are unable to view the idea of attending Comicon in a non-ironic light, and
- Readers who both get the joke that started this list, have attending Comicon on their bucket list, and have now probably stopped reading to check their local theater listings for when they can catch a screening of Paul.
To those in the first group - all I can say is: how far has this alleged self awareness really gotten you? In this case, it's going to keep you from seeing one of Seth Rogen's best performances since Freaks and Geeks. Those in the second segment - I feel pretty confident saying you're going to get good comedy value for the money. As an added bonus, you'll finally be able to point to folks from SNL in a movie that doesn't at all suck.
But for those in the last group? Bottom line is: you sort of have to go. This is the movie you hoped Fanboys was gonna be. A consistently funny road film about two British geeks who set off by RV post Comicon to tour the nation's famous sights of alien encounters. Inspired by their childhood viewing of Mac and Me, they've dreamed of meeting an extra terrestrial. Though perhaps when they imagined their first contact it wasn't with Paul: a smoking, cursing ET with a penchant for mooning people and making anal probe jokes.
There were a lot of reasons for me not to have enjoyed Paul when I saw it. Actually about three and a half hours worth of reasons - that's how delayed the start of my screening was. Seems the "film" came late, and then when it did it needed to be downloaded to the theaters digital presentation system. Sort of makes one understand the popularity of BitTorrent. Point being: I was not in the greatest of moods when the opening credits started to role, but the film entertained me from the start and I can only imagine a more typical screening experience would have left me even more positive on the picture.
Paul is the name that "just stuck" for an alien who crash landed in 1947. He's been advising everyone from world leaders to Steven Spielberg ("Hey, sure that's OK - sometimes less is more, that's all I'm saying…") while a guest of the government. For reasons revealed over the course of the film, he's suddenly decided to skip town. Which is when Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) run into him on a dark desert road one night. Paul's not the best driver, and ends up hitching a ride with the two travelers. The plot isn't altogether original (rather than the hip, pop-culture quoting alien) but I was having so much fun going along for the ride that I honestly was surprised by some of the third act twists.
Pegg and Frost co-wrote the film, and they seem to have written a set of characters that they feel completely omfortable populating. The pair are totally at ease with each other, and while that leads to more than a few easy jokes about others seeing them as a couple (not that there's anything wrong with that), it's actually a sweet onscreen model of adult male platonic friendship.
The film's dialog and situations are consistently funny at the surface level, but the largest payoff will come for viewers who will recognize the non-stop stream of references and homage shots to sci-fi and popular films of the last several decades. From Star Wars and ET to Titanic, the range is broad yet particularly rewarding at times (with the bonus of feeling truly an uber-geek at the moments when you find only yourself and a few ohers laughing at an obscure allusion that most will miss).
Technically, the film looks great and the CGI production of Paul's persona is seamlessly integrated. You know it's a computer graphics effect, but at no point did it feel unrealistic. Sure the movie is goofy as heck, but it's also a good amount of fun that I think will appeal to both sci-fi fanboys/girls while at least being pleasant viewing for a general audience. A solid recommend.