Seven days isn’t that long a period of time. But last week’s alien flick, “Battle: Los Angeles,” and this week’s, “Paul,” seem like they’re galaxies apart.
“Battle: Los Angeles” was all about testosterone, an explosion-filled orgy of gooey alien parts, loud shouting and tons of gunfire – and, in the end, was ultimately another forgettable “yay U.S. military!” flick without any heart. “Paul,” however, excels at emotion, whether it’s hilariously pathetic career-mania or the brotherly love between best friends. Movies about aliens often show us the best and worst humanity has to offer, and “Paul” – with its wonderful nods at other films in the genre, a plethora of nerdy inside jokes that are like sly winks to the audience – gives us both in a nonstop 104 minutes of greatness.
You should expect nothing else from Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, best friends in real life who reinvigorated zombie flicks with 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” and put their spin on cop movies with 2007’s “Hot Fuzz.” Pegg wrote both those with friend Edgar Wright and starred in both with Frost, but in “Paul,” Frost steps in as Pegg’s writing partner (since Wright was busy writing, producing and directing 2010’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”). The pair have a fantastic rapport built from years of actual friendship, and their ease together onscreen is absurd. Who doesn’t want a best friend who won’t laugh at you when you pee your pants, or who you can gab in Klingon with? It’s nerdy, but it certainly seems fun.
“Paul” is all about being given the chance to live your dream, however unexpected or jarring it may seem at first. For Brits Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost), that means traveling to San Diego for Comic-Con, where the two gawk at all the girls in Princess Leia bikinis and meet their favorite author, Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor, putting on his best jaded face), before planning a road trip to various UFO hot spots across the Midwest. They’ve long dreamt about coming to the U.S., and the two immediately appreciate the camaraderie at Comic-Con: “It feels so right” and “I feel like we belong,” they both sigh. And because their friendship is so unbelievably strong, everyone seems to think they’re a gay couple – including their hotel waiter, who wishes them a fun time on their honeymoon.
That “holiday,” however, takes an abrupt turn when the two – traveling in an RV filled with comic books and snacks – witness a fiery car crash that should have killed whoever was inside the vehicle. Instead, they find Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a scrawny green alien in cargo shorts and flip-flops who smokes, curses profusely and terrifies Clive, who promptly loses control of his bladder and faints. On the run from the government, who had him in their possession since he crashed in Wyoming back in 1947, Paul wants to go back home, and asks Graeme for a ride (Clive’s passed out, so he doesn’t get a say). Hesitantly, Graeme agrees, putting him and his best friend together with the proof of everything they’ve believed in their whole lives.
No road trip is easy, though, and giving a fugitive alien a ride isn’t a simple thing. Not only do Clive and Graeme have to compare their own ideas about extraterrestrials to what Paul actually is, but they’re also tailed by quite a few people, such as secret agents Zoil (Jason Bateman), Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), who are following orders to retrieve Paul. Also following them is the Christian fundamentalist father of Ruth (Kristin Wiig), a woman Clive and Graeme essentially kidnap after she spots Paul dancing with them in front of a campfire. He’s a groovy one, that alien.
The film truly makes the most of Rogen, who brings the perfect mix of sarcasm, rebelliousness and nonchalance to Paul. He appreciates Clive and Graeme’s nerdiness – the author and illustrator, respectively, have worked on a novel together that Paul reads during the trip – but also isn’t above mocking it. “How much can I learn from an ass?” he proclaims angrily when the two wonder if he’ll probe them in their sleep, and he’s not any kinder to Clive after he wakes up and attacks him – “Was that Klingon? You psychotic nerd!” “Paul” wouldn’t be the same without Pegg and Frost, either, whose characters realize how much they appreciate and need each other during their journey. Factor in that the two wrote it, packing in nods to legendary films like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Aliens,” and I can’t wait to see what film genre the pair tackles next.
“Paul” is rated R, and the rating is mainly for lots of cursing and some drug use. There’s also sexual and vulgar language, including offensive slang terms for homosexuals and breasts; a mention of masturbation; a description and simulation of homosexual sex; and some violence, like a few big explosions and two gaping, bloody chest wounds. Older teens will laugh at Paul’s antics and parents should appreciate the nods to previous films, but the language, sexual content and drug use is inappropriate for younger teens.
But it’s nice to know that there are at least some people out there injecting new ideas into alien flicks while still respecting the old ones, a balancing act that Pegg and Frost exhibit here. There are many more extraterrestrial-centered movies coming out this year with a variety of shticks – April’s “Apollo 18” will be created out of “found footage,” like the horror film “Paranormal Activity”; June’s “Super 8” pairs up “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams with the legendary Steven Spielberg; and July’s “Cowboys and Aliens” gives us Harrison Ford back to being a badass – but if any one of them can give us as humorous and refreshingly self-aware a story as “Paul,” I’ll be surprised.