WE ARE NOT ALONE Nick Frost (left) and Simon Pegg star in ‘Paul’.
Two men and a little alien
THERE’S a website called angryalien.com in which dozens of famous movies – such as ‘Titanic’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Back To The Future’ – are explained in 30 seconds. And re-enacted by bunnies.
The titular character in Greg Mottola’s new picture ‘Paul’ is an alien – and frequently rude, if not all that angry. But I’m not sure it will become so well-known that it can be summarised by rabbits in half a minute.
Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are two English nerds on the trip of a lifetime, travelling around America visiting UFO hotspots. Coming on a car crash, they find themselves giving a lift to a smart-ass alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who’s spent 60 years on Earth and has just escaped from a US government facility. He smokes like a chimney but has the ability to become invisible if he holds his breath.
Thus begins a road trip with a difference, as they try to outrun three federal agents anxious to catch up with their extra-terrestrial quarry. They don’t know where they’re going or why, but gradually, a rapport develops between humans and visitor. They accidentally kidnap ‘God-bothering Cyclops’ Ruth (Kristen Wiig), and find her ultra-religious father (John Carroll Lynch) out for revenge. Paul is reunited with Tara (Blythe Danner), whose dog he accidentally killed in a crash-landing decades ago. Sigourney Weaver, whose voice we hear intermittently, eventually shows up in person. Jeffrey Tambor, who played Hank in ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ turns up as Adam Shadowchild, a revered sci-fi author. Jane Lynch makes a brief, if characteristically sassy, appearance.
‘Paul’ is gently amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny. Ruth sports a t-shirt of Jesus shooting Charles Darwin above the slogan ‘Evolve this’. Paul gives her a crash course in the history of the world, and she’s suddenly keen to curse and fornicate. “Sorry you got my killed by my dad,” is a line that actually gets a response, while one villain is killed by the stairs of a spaceship.
There’s good chemistry between Frost and Pegg, and nods to classic fantasy and sci-fi films. These include a flashback to the 1980s, where Paul gives Steven Spielberg advice for ‘ET’. In reference to ‘The X-Files’, the alien reveals that “Agent Mulder was my idea!” The illustration of a three-breasted woman on the cover of Clive’s book comes in for regular praise.
But it feels more like an extended sketch than a full-blown feature film. The script, written by Pegg and Frost, could do with some work. The persistent Agent Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman) appears to be following in the tradition of Denise Richards’s Bond girl Christmas Jones, given a strange name for the sake of one bad joke. A motif about Graeme and Clive being mistaken for a gay couple wears thin very quickly. And while I’m as quick to make fun of creationists as the next non-believer, mocking Bible-thumpers while stressing the existence of alien landings sometimes jars.
When Paul reveals that the gang have reached their destination, he says: “What did I tell you fellas? You’ll know it when you see it.” That cut little ice with the teenager behind me, who compared the object he was looking at to one in the water towers in Ballinrobe and asked, not unreasonably, “what is it?”
The flick moves from satire into sentimentality with mixed results. Graeme reflects towards the end: “I can honestly say this is the most fun I have ever had”. I can’t honestly say I can’t agree.
Rating 5 out of 10