Susan Granger’s review of “Paul” (Universal Pictures)
A genially odd hybrid that defies classification, this R-rated, sci-fi spoof is aimed specifically at the wondrous child that still lurks inside many adults.
Two British nerds begin their American adventure at Comic-Con, that annual geek gathering in San Diego, and then rent an RV to explore the United States, stopping at all the Southwest’s most infamous UFO sites. Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) is a wannabe sci-fi writer, while Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) is an aspiring illustrator. Best-friends since childhood, they even communicate in Klingon. Somewhere between Nevada’s Area 51 and Roswell, New Mexico, they witness a fiery car crash – from which emerges a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has been confined at a top-secret military base for 60 years. That he looks exactly like E.T. is no surprise since he’s served as an extra-terrestrial consultant for Steven Spielberg. After some initial trepidation and repeated assurances from Paul that he has no intention of subjecting them to anal probing, Clive and Graeme agree to transport Paul north to an unspecified ‘pick-up’ location so that he can finally go home.
Settling into an RV park one evening, Clive becomes enamored with Ruth Buggs (Kirstin Wiig), a shy, sheltered Christian fundamentalist whose outlook changes radically after a pivotal encounter with Paul. Soon they’re being pursued by Ruth’s fanatical, Bible-toting father (John Carroll Lynch), along with a couple of “Deliverance”-crazed hillbillies (David Koechner, Jesse Plemons) and disgruntled trio of federal agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio).
Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who’ve previously paired up with Edgar Wright in “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead,” and directed by Greg Mottola (“Adventureland,” “Superbad”), it’s a jolly, buddy road-trip cornucopia of verbal and visual pop culture references and cameos by Blythe Danner, Jane Lynch and Sigourney Weaver. Cheeky computer-generated Paul comes to life in 550 effects shots, created by Double Negative for about $15 million.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Paul” is an amusingly absurd 7, a Close Encounter wish-fulfillment fantasy for sci-fi fans.