Coarse encounters

Christina Ricci and a pink alien sing the national anthem.

Christina Ricci and a pink alien sing the national anthem.

Rated 3.0

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost continue flying their geek flags high with Paul, an alien comedy that’s essentially a love letter to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad), it isn’t a laugh riot, but it has enough laughs to keep it moving forward, along with a big, sloppy, sentimental heart.

Attending their first Comic-Con in San Diego, British geeks Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost) plan to chase the sci-fi fanatic convention with a visit to some high-profile American UFO sites, like Roswell and Area 51. While driving through the desert at night in their rented RV, they witness a car accident. From the wreckage, a big-eyed alien named Paul emerges, smoking a cigarette and sporting cargo shorts. He hitches a ride with the boys, and their road movie begins.

Paul is voiced by Seth Rogen, which means he’s a pot smoker, and he’s been on the planet for over 50 years. His appearance—big head, huge eyes—is rather stereotypical for an alien. This is because the government has been leaking imagery of his appearance through the decades in order to prepare civilization for the likelihood that more of Paul’s friends could visit. This way we won’t be so shocked when they show up on our porches with their big heads and anal probes.

On their way to Paul’s original landing site—a very familiar movie landmark that I won’t spoil—the boys pick up another passenger in the form of Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a one-eyed fundamentalist Christian running an RV park with her crazy dad (John Carroll Lynch). This affords Wiig the chance to play her funniest movie role yet as a woman freed from the prison of her home and religion. She takes up cursing, and she’s quite good at it.

The geek references are bountiful, including many about Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, Star Trek, etc. The aforementioned Spielberg even makes a memorable voice cameo, getting useful advice from Paul on a movie Spielberg was making back in the early ’80s. It’s a great cameo, right up there with Michael Jackson in Men in Black 2. (I couldn’t stand Jackson, but that was a badass cameo.)

Rogen, no stranger to voiceover work—I loved him as blue blob B.O.B. in Monsters vs. Aliens—makes the CGI Paul a very memorable, even lovable creation. His comic timing is always impeccable, and he puts it to good use when he’s in the guise of animated characters. He uses a nice, laidback tone this time out, and his work blends in nicely with the live actors. There are times when I forgot I was listening to Rogen, which is probably the biggest compliment I could pay him.

Pegg and Frost, who wrote the film, are overshadowed a bit by Paul, who is much funnier than them. Their pairing this time out doesn’t have the usual hilarious zip of their past work together (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), but that’s OK. They make Graeme and Clive believable and likeable as friends, even if the laugh factor dips a bit when they are talking.

Jason Bateman is top-notch as a mysterious agent, as are the awesome Bill Hader and the always-funny Joe Lo Truglio as his underlings. Blythe Danner is terrific as a character who shall remain a mystery in this review, and Sigourney Weaver’s presence gives the film’s ending some extra geek punch.

Paul winds up being one of the more effective, emotionally satisfying alien movies since E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Apart from being a good movie on its own, all of the great references make me want to whip out all the Spielberg stuff, start at the beginning, and watch them all over again.

Except for Hook … I’m not watching that piece of shit anytime soon.