Chemistry is important when you’re dealing with characters who are supposed to be best friends and who have to get through wacky ordeals together. Throughout their earlier films, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have established the fact that they make a great duo. Teaming up once again, we get the science fiction comedy ‘Paul.’

Clive (Frost) is a science fiction writer from England on holiday in America with his best friend and illustrator Graeme (Pegg). The San Diego Comic-Con is a highlight of their cross-country RV excursion. One night, they encounter a crashed car which was apparently driven by an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan). Paul implores them to help him to reach his destination, even though he insists on being vague about it. The nerds agree to let him tag along.

Eventually joining the party is Ruth (Kristen Wiig), an incredibly sheltered and controlled young woman who runs a motor park where the RV stops one night. She sees Paul and the guys kidnap her to make sure she doesn’t give them away. This doesn’t sit well with her father, Moses (John Carroll Lynch).

Of course, there are government agents after this little green spaceman. Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) are lackeys from the FBI, but most aggressive of them all is Agent Zoil, a man with a mysterious function within the government.

Will our heroes outrun their pursuers? Where is Paul going? Will Clive’s book which features a three-breasted alien find an audience?

Compared to the other Pegg/Frost films, ‘Paul’ is their most American offering. The setting obviously has a lot to do with that, but that is also meant to imply that it attempts to be the broadest comedy. By trying to appeal to a wider audience, the duo loses some of the magic of their earlier projects. The distinctly English sensibilities of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ helped to differentiate them from the competition. A willingness to employ subtleties and consistently sly verbal humor goes a lot further than trying to hit a home run with every gag.

Even throwing out that advantage, this is a reasonably funny movie. It’s a little more consistently successful than Pegg’s ‘Run Fatboy, Run’ and miles ahead of ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate People.’ Whereas the protagonists usually dominated the funny parts in their earlier films, this is a more collaborative effort. In fact, Paul is the most outspoken character. He is a crude little alien, not unlikeable, but willing to speak his mind. Graeme rolls with the punches and Clive is in shock for most of the film, wetting his trousers a few times in the process. We all love inept law enforcement. Hader and Lo Truglio seem to have a lot of fun and it’s contagious. Wiig has some of the most unexpected moments of humor because her character is new to swearing and has some growing pains with her attempts to wield her newly expanded vocabulary. Bateman’s tireless fanaticism gives an important urgency to the plot.

As much as it is a standalone comedy, this pays tremendous amount of homage to Steven Spielberg classics like ‘E.T.’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ A love of these tales is quite evident and that enthusiasm translates quite clearly. It would help if the viewer shared that passion.

Instead of having something smart to say about genre conventions, ‘Paul’ is more than willing to regurgitate a lot of these familiar ingredients and structure with only a few surprises here and there. There are some ‘probing’ jokes, but who couldn’t see that coming? It’s far from family entertainment, but by settling for a traditional approach, it’s a lot less daring that their earlier work. There is a big budget, glossy sheen that brings it right in line with many modern cinematic expectations, but again, there is something a little too homogenized about the end product.

Special features include: commentary, bloopers, animators discuss creating Paul, Simon Pegg making silly faces, a look at fictional author Adam Shadowchild, and some galleries.

Though ‘Paul’ is a lot better than many comedies out there, it just failed to capture Pegg and Frost at their best, to this examiner. The box office numbers will hail this a s a success, but down the line, you have to wonder how this will look in hindsight.

Rated R/Unrated                104 minutes/110 minutes            2011

This post was written by:

J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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