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Review | Paul

Fellow geeks, I am going to kick off this review with a comparison that ought to make sense: Paul is a filthy Alf.

In director Greg Mottola’s latest, the titular alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) became trapped here on Earth when his spacecraft crash landed way back before most of us were born. He’s been a government guest/captive ever since, although when we meet him shortly after the film opens he is on the run from his former captors. The alien falls in with Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), a pair of lovable geeky losers from the U.K. who have traveled to the States to attend Comic-Con International and road-trip their way through notable UFO sighting-related locations throughout the United States.

There are two ways to watch Paul, and how you engage with it depends largely on your grasp of significant milestones in geek culture. There’s abundance of references throughout the movie, with nods both direct and indirect. There are explicit riffs on everything from Star Wars to Alien to Capturing the Friedmans and then back to Star Wars again, alongside deeper-cut nods like the famed “Wilhelm scream.”

Fortunately, those with little to no geek blood flowing through their veins are not left in the dark. One of Paul‘s chief successes is the way these references are either effortlessly woven into the context of the plot or pushed so far into the background that they could easily be mistaken for a creative choice on the part of the filmmakers. When you get a nod, you’ll crack a wide grin at being a part of the inside joke. And when you don’t, there’s no jarring sense that you’ve missed something special. The story simply continues to unfold and the missed reference falls into it seamlessly.

Credit for this goes to the writers, Pegg and Frost, who previously starred together in the offbeat comedies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. The duo possesses an innate grasp of geeky pop culture and they flex those muscles like they never have before for Paul. The result is an overwhelming success, a sharp story which tickles the fanperson funnybone without forgetting that it’s important to have a heart.

Paul’s CG animated self is, ironically, the most developed character in the cast. He is equal parts comic foil and wacky alien stoner dude, a smack-talking extraterrestrial who drops nuggets of wisdom alongside his many F-bombs. Rogen’s performance is critical to this, but equally important is the CG-animated creation from which his voice emerges. The animators did a fantastic job of breathing life into the alien, which, coupled with Rogen’s delivery, really gives the sense that he is there.

Pegg and Frost are predictably great, but Paul is very much an ensemble production. Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman get the most time to play — and play they do — but they’re supported by equally strong minor appearances by the likes of Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Jane Lynch, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, David Koechner, Jeffrey Tambor and, in a hilarious late-game twist, Sigourney Weaver.

Bringing it all together is Mottola, who is really just a perfect fit for this material. Profane and sentimental in equal measures, strip out the geekier elements and you find plenty of common ground in Paul with his earlier work on films like Superbad and Adventureland. He ensures that each performer in the massive cast gets their chance to make us laugh before departing to make way for the next one, and he pulls solid work out of everyone. Some of the more reference-heavy moments in particular come off magically, and credit Mottola for guiding the delivery into just the right place.

Paul is a fun ride, beginning to end. There’s comedy (high, low and stoned), heart, action, an explosion or two and a parade of references that will certainly result in the spur-of-the-moment creation of more than a few drinking games. There’s added value here in spades for the geekier customers, but Paul stands just fine on its own as an R-rated comedy about a smack-talking alien visitor. Alf was never this filthy.

Paul opens today in the United States.

Don’t miss Spinoff’s interviews with Paul director Greg Mottola and actor Joe Lo Truglio.


  • Anonymous

    “Paul is, ironically, the most developed character in the cast.”

    That’s not ironic at all. He is the title character, one would expect him to be the most developed. That is in fact the opposite of irony.

  • Uniqueorn23

    The movie has been out here for a few weeks already and it is quite a letdown from the people who brought you Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

    Kirsten Wiig and Jason Bateman are great, but the movie is a bit of a snoozefest.

  • BoyBlunder

    it was actually not brought to you by the guys who made Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz……just happenes to have two actors who were also in those movies………..

  • Adam Rosenberg

    The irony I was referring to is the fact that he’s not actually a human but a digital creation. You’re right though, that is completely unclear in the way I wrote it. Thanks.

  • Adam Rosenberg

    Actually, Pegg and Frost also wrote this one.

  • TF_Loki

    But Pegg & Wright wrote Fuzz & Shaun!

  • Eldonte

    Honestly, this movie was great and there was an amazing amount of in jokes and homages that brought smile after smile ontop of laugh after laugh. The story was unpredictable and left me feeling very happy and satisfied at the end. Better than Hot Fuzz and on par (perhaps better than) Shaun of the Dead. That may just because there are a lot more sci-fi movies than zombie flicks that they had to work with. The casting was brilliant; I smiled when I saw the actress playing older Tara (too lazy to google it). Can’t wait for the next Frost/Pegg film; it will have very large shoes to fill.

  • Anonymous

    I was thinking of going to see it but judging from the trailers (and reviews) there are too many cheap sex jokes (and a curious anti-Christian message that comes out of nowhere) for me to enjoy it. Maybe on TV.

  • Anonymous

    “Credit for this goes to the writers, Pegg and Frost, who previously starred together in the offbeat comedies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead”

    And Spaced, which was great!

  • Lion_okitkat

    This movie was really good, I really enjoyed it, and I’m secretly hoping for a sequel (although I know that won’t happen,lol).

  • Lion_okitkat

    There is no anti-Christian message in this movie. Ugh! I heard some guy bitching about the anti-God stuff in the movie afterwards. This was the feelings of the particular characters in the movie, they weren’t trying to change any minds or convince people not to believe. If your secure in your faith why does it bother you when people question it? People right now on this earth are killing each other and passing laws to hurt/discriminate against others (among many other things) because of their so called faith. Religious holier than though people can certainly dish it but when it comes time to take some criticism theres a national f***** crisis.

  • Eldonte

    Paul uses a telepathic power to show a repressed (by her father) girl that there is more to life than her dad’s limited world-view. Her character flourishes, but goes at things a little too full on at first. Hilarity ensues with her new appreciation for life. Catch a matinee showing at a cheaper rate, but don’t sell this movie short, it’s really good.

  • Anonymous

    If it were just some characters talking about it, the anti-religious message would not bother me, but from what I hear not only does the female character loses her entire faith because of the alien (instead of trying to work it into her view of God’s universe) but one of the villains in the movie is her religious fanatic father. That’s a very unsubtle Take That at believers.

    Now, I MIGHT be wrong and neither this element (nor the sex jokes) might really make Paul a film I would not enjoy- but I have to judge based on something. Like I said: maybe on TV.