A lot of reviews for Paul are prefaced with the author’s love of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so as to indicate their admiration and respect for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as their love for director Greg Mottola’s previous film Superbad. All of this is said so they can heap their disappointment on Paul for not fulfilling some unspoken nerdly mission to do for science fiction what was done to zombie movies and buddy cop/action movies.

I call shenanigans! Paul may not be a great movie, but it’s a good movie nonetheless.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!!

The movie follows British nerds Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) as they head from San Diego Comicon on a tour of America’s alien hot-spots, inevitably ending at Area 51. In the midst of their road trip, a car crashes before their very eyes and they discover Paul (voiced wonderfully by Seth Rogen), a foul-mouthed being uncannily resembling the typical “Grey” we’ve grown up with as the quintessential alien. In fact, according to Paul, the government has been feeding images of him to the public over the last 60 years so we don’t panic when our two species eventually meet. Paul convinces the boys to help him and take him to his rendezvous point before the government captures him again.

In pursuit of Paul are Agent Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman) and two junior agents, O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) and Haggard (Bill Hader) under the direction of Ellen Ripley The Big Guy. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the trailers, then you’ll figure out who it is the minute she speaks. To make this chase movie all the sweeter, Clive and Graeme manage to anger one hillbilly too many as well as a gun-toting Bible-thumper whose daughter (Kristin Wiig) they “kidnapped” after revealing the existence of an alien that shatters her Judeo-Christian, Creationist beliefs.

The movie itself is one big love letter to science fiction. Dialogue and scenery are peppered with movie references. Paul asks for Reese’s Pieces when the boys stop at a gas station. The bar they stop at plays a down home version of the cantina music from Star Wars. Plus, a sweet Aliens reference at the end and a host of Close Encounters of the Third Kind references! It’s every nerd’s dream and yet it all feels a bit too easy and less clever than what we’ve seen from Pegg and Frost.

The difference may be in their attempt to write a movie that takes place entirely in America. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are insular movies set in the UK that follow the rules of their specific genres while still having a little fun with the tropes.  The closest they get to commenting on science fiction in general is the book written by Clive and illustrated by Graeme that’s passed around with a green alien chick sporting three boobs. When Agent Haggard suggests four boobs, Graeme vehemently replies, “That’s disgusting!” Because Pegg and Frost are British they’re also capable of putting a cultural stamp on zombie or action movies without alienating the audience.  But Paul too easily depicts mid-Western Americans as either dumb hicks or psycho Christians. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but it would’ve been interesting if Pegg and Frost hadn’t relied on those stereotypes entirely.

The movie, however, brings up an interesting idea as to the impact of aliens on a system of belief. Kristin Wiig wonderfully captures the sense of loss and freedom experienced by her character, Ruth Buggs, once confronted with proof of extra-terrestrial life. Her solution? Swear, drink, smoke pot, and fornicate! Attagirl! I mean, come on, how would you react? Your whole life you’ve been told and believe in one thing and then find out its completely wrong! What else have you been missing out on? What else do you believe to be wrong? Can you trust that it really is wrong? It’s a great idea that’s played for laughs, but could easily become the plot of another movie. Her attempts at cussing are pretty funny, but get old after a while.

What I was surprised by most was the amount of heart. Despite the excessive language that earned the movie an R rating, there are a lot of heartwarming moments. His last stop before the rendezvous, Paul insists on visiting the Wyoming farm where he first crashed in 1947. He reunites with the girl, now an old woman played by Blythe Danner, who pulled him from the wreckage and dubbed him Paul after accidentally landing on her dog of the same name. The reunion is bittersweet and showcases that Seth Rogen has the ability to act subtly. Moments between Paul and the guys are also very sweet as Paul pulls the two nerds out of their shells. The scene where they dance around the BBQ showcases the dorkiness of Pegg and Frost but leaves a smile on your face regardless.

And that, I think, is the point of the movie. Yes, there aren’t a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, but you’ll chuckle and smile as you watch two grown men living the science fiction dream.

As always, let me know what you think. Did you like Paul? Did you dislike it? Tell me why.

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