Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen Have Close Encounter in Fun ‘Paul’

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CHICAGO – When having fun at the movies seems in short supply, the British film duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost come along with one of their goofy, comic tributes to our cinematic heritage. After zombies in “Shaun of the Dead” and action heroes in “Hot Fuzz.” Pegg and Frost take on the extra terrestrials in “Paul.”

Providing the silly, light and R-rated version of the E.T. legend, the cheeky boys take the air out of the warm fuzzy close encounter by making their outer spaceman (called Paul) into a crass, chain-smoking pants dropper. While they’re at it, there are tweaks at the U.S. government, organized religion and comic book conventions. Oh yes, and it’s an RV road trip.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are British comic book fan boys making their first visit to Comicon in San Diego and the United States in general. After meeting some of their graphic novel heroes, including Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), they take to the road in an RV. They plan to visit all the alien hotspots, especially the mysterious Area 51.

As Graeme and Clive’s road trip rolls along the government-run alien territory, a car accident occurs in front of them. Approaching the wreckage carefully, they are surprised by the presence of Paul (voice of Seth Rogen), an extra terrestrial being that has escaped his government captors. After the initial shock wears off, the British duo become protectors of their new friend, fleeing the federal posse that are looking to recapture the alien. The foul-mouthed Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) are aided by the bumbling Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), taking orders from The Big Guy (Sigourney Weaver).

Enlightened: Simon Pegg (Graeme) and Nick Frost (Clive) in ‘Paul’
Enlightened: Nick Frost (Clive) and Simon Pegg (Graeme) and in ‘Paul’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

As the chase roars on, Clive, Graeme and Paul also encounter a Christian RV camp, and they have to kidnap the one-eyed proprietor named Ruth (Kristen Wiig). While minds get changed and blown (mostly by Paul), the motley crew has to find a way to get their E.T. back home to the mother ship. This may constitute an encounter of the fourth kind.

The jokes, while inconsistent, come fast and furious. The mere presence of Paul is inherently funny, and the design of the animatronic character is pretty cool. Sometimes the Seth Rogen hip-potty-mouth routine grows soft, but maybe because that formula is a bit overexposed. At least we don’t have to see how Seth’s girth is doing (my favorite, Pudgy Seth), because it’s just his voice. In general, it was a good choice and the alien presence is flavored by the Rogen persona.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also co-wrote the screenplay, are their usual steady comic selves, this time staying more in the background. There is a lot going on in this plot besides the relationship of the two friends, and what works is that they use the fish-out-of-water routine effectively among the crazy American meet-ups. Following up on their previous genre tributes, Simon and Nick again put a romantic charge into the E.T landscape. The ability to poke fun at something while at the same time paying homage is their particular talent.

The supporting cast works for the most part. Jason Bateman nearly steals the film as Agent Zoil, who hilariously is looking for total control of the situation. He has morphed sincerely into a nice character role groove, and by playing the agent straight across the board comes off funnier than some of the silly antics of Paul and company. Jane Lynch makes a welcome cameo as Pat, and of course Sigourney Weaver continues her post-Ripley-in-Alien irony by playing the “Big Guy” government operative.

And then there is Kristen Wiig. Her recent transition into the movies has merely been a display of the same note characters she does on “Saturday Night Live.” Her part is oddly written, that of a Christian woman who by mind melding with Paul becomes secularly converted. That means she now can swear a lot. This one joke is repeated several times, with diminishing results. If a more deft comic actress had interpreted that gag, it might have been funnier.

Under the Gun: Simon Pegg and Bill Hader (Haggard) in ‘Paul’
Under the Gun: Simon Pegg and Bill Hader (Haggard) in ‘Paul’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Besides the government and religion, Pegg and Frost fashion a valentine to one Mr. Steven Spielberg with a obvious combination of “E.T.” and “Close Encounters.” Mr. S. joins the ride with an appropriate cameo, but there is more for him than expected, real lump-in-the-throat moments.

And that’s what Simon Pegg and Nick Frost do, they take their ordinary British chap characters and allow them to filter all the joy and wonder into whatever fan boy theme they happen to be riffing on. That, and Paul, are simply a lot of fun.

“Paul” opens everywhere March 18th. Featuring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Hader. Screenplay by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Directed by Greg Mottola. Rated “R.” For the HollywoodChicago.com interview of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost click here.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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