Close Encounters

By Carl Kozlowski

Posted March 17, 2011 in Film

With the Middle East in turmoil and Japan locked in a nuclear crisis, the whole world could use a laugh right about now. Thankfully, the new sci-fi comedy Paul arrives in theaters Friday, packing many laughs per minute along with great performances, inventive twists and a sweet core of silly fun.

Written by and starring British comics Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the dynamic duo behind the brilliant cult hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Paul centers on two nerdy British tourists named Clive (Frost) and Graeme (Pegg) who have come to America to visit the sci-fi nerd mecca of Comic-Con before driving an RV across the US to visit alleged alien encounter sites. They realize that they’re just being silly, and do not expect they’ll ever encounter a real alien—until a car races around them in the dead of night before careening off the highway and exploding.

Looking for human survivors, they instead encounter a surly, wisecracking, dope-smoking alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who’s on the run from federal secret agents (Jason Bateman and Sigourney Weaver) he believes are out to kill him. Paul took his name from the dog his spaceship crushed when it crash-landed in rural Wyoming in 1947, and he’s spent the past 60-plus years being questioned at the clandestine Area 51 for his advanced alien insights and technological know-how.

Paul is just desperate to stay on the run and alive, but things keep getting more complicated as junior federal agents (Bill Hader and Thomas Lennon) get roped into the chase, and the on-the-lam trio also pick up a fundamentalist Christian (Kristen Wiig) who’s desperate to make a getaway of her own, away from her repressive life managing a desert RV park with her Bible-thumping father (John Carroll Lynch).

Paul is literally a wonder to behold, a smile- and laugh-inducing romp from start to finish that is rated “R” for some profanity and a few dope-smoking scenes. But the film has such an inherent good-natured vibe that teens and even the children of liberal-minded parents should be allowed to enjoy it as well. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) displays the best of his strengths as he weaves frenetically funny action scenes with revealing emotional moments that steer clear of sappiness.

Aside from its vast surface charms, the film’s brilliant script and perfect casting includes hilarious cameos from the likes of Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor and, in a truly inspired gag, the voice of Steven Spielberg himself. Pay close attention and you’ll find countless sly references to other classic alien films, including the fact that Weaver is fighting an alien again in a completely different fashion than her epic turns as Ripley in the Alien film series.

Hopefully, American audiences won’t be dissuaded by the fact the film stars Pegg and Frost, who are relatively unknown here. These are two men who are long overdue for a major break in the US. If audiences give this movie a shot, it could well become a word-of-mouth sensation.


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