Paul | Movie review
Mottola, Pegg and Frost probe Spielberg’s greatest hits.
Shaun of the Dead tripped up the zombie genre’s last stumble toward relevance; Hot Fuzz hilariously exploded the excesses of ’80s cop dramas. Now Paul, written by those movies’ stars (but absent the influence of their director, Edgar Wright), worships at the altar of Close Encounters and E.T., and the results, to quote Douglas Adams, are mostly harmless. Knowing its fanbase, the movie opens at Comic-Con, where two British ne’er-do-well comic-book writers (Pegg and Frost) depart to tour America’s iconic UFO-sighting spots. Lo and behold, they meet an actual little green man, named Paul (Rogen, neutering his own shtick), who enjoins them to help him escape from pursuing men in black.
The movie gains mileage sending up invasion-thriller conventions (Paul, asked if he’s speaking through a translation device: “Actually, I’m speaking English, you fucking idiot”), and the characters’ nerdism is good for a few laughs. But only Wiig—as a Bible-thumper turned foul-mouthed atheist after a mind meld with Paul—makes this wan pastiche feel inspired. That’s a surprise, since Mottola’s last two films, Superbad and Adventureland, both put hilarious spins on horndog-adolescent formulas. A dash of A.I.’s darkness might have helped, and there are signs of last-minute brightening, as when Bateman’s otherwise funny government stooge is dealt with in an abrupt, uplifting coda. Affection is the lifeblood of parody, of course, but when Spielberg is so close as to contribute a vocal cameo, the jokes are more inside than out-of-this world.