“Paul” is easily the funniest Hollywood movie of the new year, and will likely still be in the conversation six months from now.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been making great sci-fi comedies together for more than a decade. “Paul” finds them collaborating as writers for the first time, and the results are even better than even their biggest fans could’ve expected.
After a visit to ComicCon, British tourists Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost) head out in an RV on a tour of America’s great UFO sites. As they pass near Area 51, alleged site of a 1947 UFO crash, they find Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien who looks like he’s right of central casting, crawling from the wreckage of a flaming car. Paul explains that he’s on the run from “The Big Guy,” a notorious government operative, and after some fainting and pants wetting, the Brits agree to take Paul with them. What follows is a rollicking road trip/chase adventure.
Director Greg Mottola tackled a similar construct with “Superbad”: two dorks, one of them fat, and a total weirdo--McLovin—on a seemingly quixotic quest. Hell, they even run into Bill Hader as a half-mad law enforcement officer. And once again, Mottola shows he knows how to keep the laughs while the action continues to move forward naturally.
Frost has traditionally been second banana to Pegg, but here he moves to the fore as an equal, without missing a step. The duo has been doing this kind of work together for so long they could do it in their sleep, but they’re so sincere and committed that it still feels fresh.
Along the way, they encounter a parade of comedy all-stars: Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jason Bateman, Hader, Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver… and of course Blythe Danner (Dee Wallace Stone must’ve been too busy) and Steven Spielberg.
But it’s Paul, as voiced by Rogen, that ultimately makes the film. Effects supervisor Jody Johnson’ team did a great job of weaving Paul into the film, and they worked with Rogen to make him as natural as possible. Paul’s been here on Earth for some 60 years, so he’s fully acclimated, he doesn’t move or talk or act like an alien.
The film is loaded with countless inside jokes for sci-fi fans, like the band in the honky tonk bar playing the Star Wars cantina song. But Mottola never rubs your face in them, allowing you to enjoy the ones you catch without exhausting you. The touch and timing of the film are so good that they make two Jenga jokes, with the second being even funnier than the first.
Incredibly, “Paul” not only has a message but a totally schmaltzy ending, yet it still works right through the epilogue that runs during the credits.